Miami Project Researchers Receive $2.2 Million DOD Grant to Study Movement Disorders

Brian Noga, Ph.D., research associate professor of neurological surgery, and a team of researchers at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis have received a $2.2 million Department of Defense Translational Research Award for their upcoming study, “Gait Ignition Using Deep Brain Stimulation Following Spinal Cord Injury.”

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been shown to be an effective, relatively safe, reversible and adjustable treatment for difficult-to-treat movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. To date, it has had little application in people with spinal cord injury (SCI), even though a significant percentage of people with new and chronic injuries have spared connections between brain and spinal cord. Recent work in Noga’s laboratory has pointed to a potential target for controlling walking after partial SCI.

“DBS is a reversible, controllable and potent technology,” said Noga. “If we can learn the optimal target and stimulation parameters in these experimental models using clinically approved devices, the pathway to translation with human testing is likely to be safer and more effective.”

The funded research will provide a much-needed proof-of-concept for stimulation strategies targeting spared pathways in people with incomplete SCI in a translational animal model of neurological and neurosurgical disorders, using a technique that is already available and FDA-approved. The technology offers the prospect of early application in the rehabilitation process, to significantly enhance walking ability when it would not otherwise occur. That is, people with incomplete injuries who may not normally achieve ambulation, may have the ability to do so with this treatment.

The improved physical ability may result in a wide range of benefits including the ability to exercise, bone-load, and strengthen muscle, and a reduction in secondary complications associated with a sedentary lifestyle, with improved participation and quality of life. If successful, gait training after SCI could become more efficient, ultimately reducing costs of care.

The researchers expect this work to lead directly to a Phase 1 clinical study, and to further preclinical studies that may involve supplementary transmitter replacement in combination with locomotor training and functional electrical stimulation. Noga’s research colleagues are Jonathan Jagid, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery, and James Guest, M.D., Ph.D., clinical professor of neurological surgery.

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