Dr. El-Baz teams with Dr. Susan Harkema for SPARC Grant on Bladder Control

December 4, 2017

Dr. Ayman El-BazIn 2014, Dr. Susan Harkema, professor in UofL's Department of Neurological Surgery, assembled the team that developed an implantable device in a patient with spinal cord trauma that grants them the temporary ability to walk. Part of that team was current department of Bioengineering chair Dr. Ayman El-Baz, who is continuing his work with Harkema on a new project entitled, “Functional Mapping with Lumbosacral Epidural Stimulation for Restoration of Bladder Function After Spinal Cord Injury,” which aims to attend to deficits in urologic function after spinal cord injury, specific to bladder dysfunction.

“I am the one who worked with Dr. Harkema to find the best combination for the software to guide them to make the charge and discharge of the blood,” says El-Baz. He adds of their newest project, “We are writing the software that Dr. Harkema needs to help the patient to charge and discharge."

El-Baz earned his PhD in bioimaging, a path shaped by personal experience after a member of his family experienced kidney failure. After a successful transplant, El-Baz realized that the new kidney would require further scrutiny and attention to prevent another failure, and began developing non-invasive imaging tech for acute renal regeneration.

He sees his work with Harkema as an opportunity at growth, not only in his interdisciplinary connections, but in his ability to evolve his own skills, applying them where they may make a positive cultural impact.

“I’ve started to learn about the human neural system. It’s a new field for me. I started to see how the neuro-system is correlated with blood, heart rate, muscle activation. This grant opened a lot in front of me," said El-Baz. "It’s a little different than lung or prostate cancer, because it has more than one trend. If you want to view cancer, it usually has one similarity. But this is completely different depending on the injury. This can control the patients breath, heart rate, blood functionality. This is why during this project I’m learning a lot. We discover something."

Their efforts have yielded a SPARC (Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions) grant, which is new type of grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that is milestone driven. Each year is built around a milestone, with further funding providing with each successive achievement met. For now, that grant is capped at a three-year period, with a possibility for more based on their ability to meet their goals.

“We have monthly meetings with NIH to check our progress. Dr. Harkema divides the work. My job here is to design the software to visual the signals (from imaging) into something you can see," said El-Baz. "It’s better to take the signal and visualize it as an image. In order to make the bladder to start to charge, I have to visualize that all muscles are not activated to see what the best is to get the bladder charging.”