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An Investment in Hope for Spinal Cord Injury

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In 2018 it was reported that there were approximately 288,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the United States and that this number had a projected growth of 18,000 cases each year (1). Dr. Edmund Hollis and his lab are working to change this staggering statistic and give hope to those suffering from neuronal damage. By focusing on motor (movement) recovery as a whole, the Hollis lab is able to not only evaluate potential therapeutic strategies for spinal cord injury, but also for stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and neurodegenerative diseases.

The motor cortex is the region of the brain that is involved in the planning, control and execution of voluntary muscle movement. Networks of brain cells (neurons) in this region of the brain send information down to the spinal cord and directly activate the circuits controlling muscles involved in voluntary or planned movement. The muscles involved in voluntary movement allow us to run, walk and wave our arms around. When someone suffers an injury causing damage to the spinal cord, voluntary muscle movements become impaired which significantly impacts muscle function. These motor cortex networks are altered by spinal cord injury and are the target for current physical rehabilitation to improve movement after injury.

Burke Neurological Institute was awarded a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Dr. Hollis to research “Optical dissection of intracortical circuits supporting motor recover after spinal cord injury”. This grant provides the funding to study how these motor cortex networks are reorganized after injury and aims to identify the effects of rehabilitation on motor cortex networks used to promote motor recovery. By understanding these networks, we can identify and target new therapies for motor recovery to help patients to walk, eat and dress themselves again.

This research specifically focuses on restoring limb function after spinal cord injury and the motor cortex network remodeling which influences recovery after injury. These studies will be done using animal models with the hope that these findings will provide a path for therapeutic advances that dictate which strategies are most effective when translated to humans who have suffered a spinal cord injury.

Reference:

  1. National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, Facts and Figures at a Glance. Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2018.