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UofL spinal cord research at center of new studies

by UofL Today, from information provided by Jill Scoggins, HSC communications and marketing last modified Sep 06, 2012 12:46 PM

UofL neuroscientist Susan Harkema is primary author on 12 research studies published this week that show that innovative rehabilitative treatments, like those used in Louisville, can lead to significant functional improvements and a higher quality of life for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients.

Harkema holds an endowed chair in the Department of Neurological Surgery, directs the Spinal Cord Medicine Program at Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville and directs the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), a national network of activity-based rehabilitation centers for spinal cord injury.

The studies used data from 296 SCI patients treated at seven NRN centers nationwide.

Eleven of the studies are published in the September issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Taken together, they suggest that locomotor training, a therapy that seeks to retrain the nervous system by simulating stepping and walking, and rehabilitation can be part of the repair process after spinal cord injury and promotes improvements in the neuromuscular system.

Another study, published in the September issue of Journal of Neurological Physical Therapy, found that expenses associated with equipment, home renovations and transportation decreased by up to 25 percent for both pediatric and senior patients with motor-incomplete SCI because of the function gained after intensive locomotor training.

“The science shows that locomotor training is beneficial to people with spinal cord injury, even in those who have been injured for quite some time,” said Susan Howley, executive vice president of research at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

“These results support the concept that there exists an intrinsic capacity of the human spinal cord circuitry that response to task-specific sensory cues can result in recovery in walking,” Harkema said. “The existence of the NRN and standardization of locomotor training protocols are crucial to determining the outcomes of these and future studies. By standardizing protocols across all NRN centers, we have an improved ability to understand the capacity for recovery in a chronic SCI population.”

Locomotor training is used for people with brain and spinal cord injury, stroke and other neurological disorders. More than 1 million people in the United States are living with paralysis due to a spinal cord injury, according to the Reeve Foundation.

Participating medical centers included: Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville; Boston Medical Center in Boston; Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research and Education Center/Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J.; Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia; Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus; Shepherd Center in Atlanta; and The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston.

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