Kessler Foundation scientists receive more than $1.2 M grants from NJ Commission for SCI research

The New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Injury Research awarded three grants to scientists at Kessler Foundation. The grants, which exceed $1.2 million, fund studies of assisted walking with Ekso, the impact of aging in the population with spinal cord injury (SCI) and the effects of electrical stimulation on bone loss.

"Thanks to the Commission, we have the ability to advance research to find new treatments that improve the function and quality of life of individuals with spinal cord injury," said John DeLuca, Ph.D., vice president for Research and Training at Kessler Foundation. "We look forward to combining our expertise in mobility and cognitive research to take the first step towards finding therapies that will delay deficits in thinking, learning and memory thought to be associated with the accelerated-aging process in people with SCI."

Gail Forrest, Ph.D., assistant director of Human Performance and Engineering Research, was awarded $574,976 over three years to study the effect of Ekso-assisted walking on muscle and bone (CSCR13IRG013). Ekso is a robotic battery-powered exoskeletal device made by Ekso Bionics. Dr. Forrest will determine whether a walking over-ground training protocol with Ekso can reverse negative changes in the muscles and bones of individuals with chronic SCI. Muscle volume and other indicators will be measured through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. Muscle expression for PGC-1a-a protein responsible for energy metabolism-and bone density will also be measured. In addition, changes in loading force, joint force and muscle activation will be assessed as individuals walk using the exoskeleton. Collected data will be used to design a multi-site clinical trial to determine whether a robotic exoskeleton training program is more effective in improving musculoskeletal outcomes than other current interventions.

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of Neuropsychology & Neuroscience and Traumatic Brain Injury Research, and Jill Wecht, Ed.D., from James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, received a three-year $596,152 grant to study the impact of aging on cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and cognitive health in individuals with SCI (CSCR13IRG018). Kessler Foundation's Trevor Dyson-Hudson, M.D., director of Spinal Cord Injury Research, and Glenn Wylie, D.Phil, assistant director of Neuroscience Research and the Neuroimaging Center, are co-investigators on the study. Accelerated cardiovascular aging, affecting the heart and blood circulation, is associated with a shorter life expectancy in SCI. Up to 60 percent also have some cognitive impairment-including deficits in attention, concentration, memory, reasoning and processing speed-which challenges rehabilitation efforts and social integration. In the general population, aging is associated with cardiovascular dysfunction and cognitive slowing. This study will examine whether age-associated changes in cardiovascular function contribute to the increased prevalence of cognitive dysfunction in people with SCI. Cardiovascular data will be collected at rest, during activities of daily living and during cognitive assessments. The study aims to correlate clinical changes with functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) performed at the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation.

Megan Damcott, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow in Human Performance and Engineering Research, received a one-year $50,000 grant to study the efficacy of electrical stimulation (ES) in preventing bone loss in individuals with SCI (CSCR13FEL009). The prolonged inability to walk decreases quality of life and causes bone loss and osteoporosis, which increases the risk of fractures and death. Dr. Damcott will develop a protocol for the use of ES with mechanical walking interventions. Once established, she will pilot a study to test the reliability and sensitivity of ES in preventing loss of bone density.

 

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