Hands for Hope

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2014

Two researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), received a $6 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to study ways to reverse some paralysis in patients with spinal-cord injury (SCI).

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The study will test new treatments in an effort to find a way for people with cervical SCI to regain hand movement.

“We aim to restore patients’ independence by returning their ability to type on a keyboard, open doors and transfer themselves between their bed and wheelchair,” says Daniel Lu, MD, PhD, researcher on the study, assistant professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a clinician at the UCLA Spine Center, in a press release.

Two different therapies will be studied. The first involves electrical impulses on the spinal cord in an attempt to stimulate dormant pathways to allow the brain to receive signals past the injured area. Power levels, rates and locations will be tested to find the most effective treatment.

The second therapy tests serotonergic agonists, a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication used to treat depression. Because nerve cells partially use serotonin as a neurotransmitter, Reggie Edgerton, PhD, the other researcher on the study and professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology at UCLA, hopes raising serotonin levels in the spinal cord will open new lines of communication.

“The spinal cord is smart … [it] can independently interpret sensory feedback and direct the extremities to balance and move with minimal involvement from the brain,” Edgerton says in a press release.

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