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Susan Harkema, Ph.D.

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Susan Harkema, Ph.D.
Rehabilitation Research Director,
Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center
Owsley B. Frazier Chair in Neurological Rehabilitation
Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery

 

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For more information on Dr. Harkema's current research

Research Description

Our primary research aim is to understand neural mechanisms responsible for human locomotion and the level of plasticity after neurologic injury. The primary focus is to study the plasticity of the human lumbosacral spinal cord in individuals with spinal cord injury during locomotor training. We step individuals on a treadmill with body weight support and manual assistance to maintain the normal kinematics and kinetics of walking. Locomotor training is based on providing appropriate sensory information specific to locomotion to the neuronal circuits in the spinal cord. This sensory feedback can be interpreted and integrated by the neural circuitry in the human spinal cord and alter the efferent motor patterns during stepping. Repetitive locomotor training may promote spinal learning and strengthen the neural circuitry responsible for locomotion. Our studies emphasize the importance of basic neural principles of locomotion that are applicable to all animals. The results of these studies contribute to the knowledge about the fundamental mechanisms of control of human locomotion and may provide strategies than can be used by physical therapists for the rehabilitation of walking for patients after neurologic injury.

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