KSCIRC: A Discovery-to-Recovery Approach to Human Spinal Cord Injury
The Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC) at the University of Louisville supports basic scientific and translational medical research alongside the best in clinical care and practice to achieve Victory over Paralysis. Our interdisciplinary continuum and the physical co-location of labs and clinical care make incremental advancements available to patients while patient assessments and feedback inform the next round of research. We continually assess Quality-of-Life improvements that result from participation in our programs and their contributions to reducing individual and population health-care costs.
Victories over paralysis are what motivate us as we design each experiment, document and categorize each participant’s progress. We are an international team committed to understanding the neuroscience of spinal cord function and then translating scientific findings to clinical practice. This moves us continually toward fully overcoming paralysis.
Every spinal cord injury is as unique as the person who experiences it. We strive to understand each individual injury and the impact it has on an individual’s life. Every incremental gain a person makes in mobility, health and quality of life is a true victory over paralysis.
Operating under the emerging truth that the human spinal cord is just as smart as the brain, Locomotor Training and NeuroMuscular Electrical Stimulation are among the techniques routinely used to access spinal cord intelligence. Our understanding of neural plasticity (ability of the nervous system to repair itself) and residual supraspinal input (how the brain connects to areas below the injury) allows our globally recruited scientific leaders to design and conduct cutting-edge research that investigates the potential to recover function in organs and systems affected by the injury (e.g., blood pressure regulation, bladder, bowel and sexual function, and the ability to sweat).
KSCIRC studies are revealing that spinal cord Epidural Stimulation (scES) can activate specific neural circuits. These circuits are accessed by an electrode array surgically implanted over the lower spinal cord. In 2009, Rob Summers, who had a severe spinal cord injury, received an epidural implant and began the experimental training that accompanied it. Today, a small number of other individuals have undergone the treatment and are experiencing similar, unexpected, yet significant results. The scES device and associated therapies have allowed some individuals with SCI to recover function in the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that controls “automatic” bodily functions we do not consciously control such as blood pressure regulation, breathing and digestion), others have regained control of volitional (intentional) movement, and some are re-learning how to stand and walk.
- The Epidural Stimulation Program recently received FDA approval to conduct a pivotal 36-patient, six-year clinical trial to further determine its potential benefits
Building upon this strong foundation and success, we extended our clinical services and research to children with paralysis due to spinal cord injuries.Some children are born with paralysis because of conditions such as spinal tumors, while paralysis strikes others as a result of physical trauma or acquired diseases. These injuries interrupt a child’s normal growth and development. KSCIRC has pioneered pediatric research and the practice of activity-based therapies, specifically locomotor training, to promote recovery for kids after spinal cord injury.
Since 2012, the Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery has established cutting-edge rehabilitation targeting recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI) in children age 18 months to 17 years. We consistently achieve novel outcomes outreaching the typical expectations of care meant to simply manage the consequences of paralysis. Children not expected to ever get better are getting better. Our scientifically-based therapies capitalize on emerging knowledge of a ‘smart’ spinal cord capable of learning and generating movement. We have seen improved abilities to sit, stand, balance, and step. Our sole focus is to advance recovery and nothing beats the feeling of watching our kids kick paralysis !
Parents ask, “Is there any hope?” As one child wrote to us: