Research

The overall goal of the work in my,  “Spinal Cord Injury and Neuroprostheses” , “Spinal Cord Injury Functional Electrical Stimulation Research” and the “Rehabilitation Engineering”, laboratories is to develop rehabilitation interventions for improving and restoring lost function after spinal cord injury, head trauma or stroke. My multidisciplinary research team is composed of biologists, engineers and neuroscientists and we collaborate with multiple laboratories at the University of Alberta and across North America. Our work is funded by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR), the Canadian Fund for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the International Spinal Cord Injury Trust (ISRT) the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society (SCITCS) and the United State National Institutes of Health (NIH).

On January 11th, 2006 the SCITCS Board of Directors donated $80,123.56 to research the development of deep pressure ulcer formation.

Total  donated to date 2010 – $115,000

The funds will be used to develop a method for preventing the onset of deep ulcers using novel electrical stimulation paradigm                                 completed 2014 Smart ePants
March 31, 2015 marked the official end of the Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) Interdisciplinary Team Grant that led to the creation of our Project SMART team (http://smartneuralprostheses.med.ualberta.ca/).  I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to all of you for forming such an outstanding team.  Dick, Zelma and I feel very privileged to have had the chance to work with each and every one of you.

Since its inception in April 2009, our Project SMART team made landmark contributions that can collectively be summarized in four global areas:

·       Delivered Smart-e-Pants as an innovative and effective means for preventing pressure ulcers in people with reduced mobility and sensation.

·       Delivered intraspinal microstimulation and associated system as an innovative means for restoring functional walking for long distances that surpass those produced by any other intervention.

·       Delivered novel flexible-base electrode arrays that can be used in various areas of the nervous system to address a constellation of neuroprosthetic therapeutics.

·       Delivered new information regarding sensory perception through intracranial stimulation that increase our understanding of somatosensory processing and perception

While the above capture the global areas of accomplishments, each area benefitted from the outstanding collaboration and contributions of the many disciplines represented in our team.  These led to many innovative investigations that were not envisioned at the onset of the team, an excellent sign of effective collaboration and engagement.

As a Team, I am very proud of our performance as evaluated on various metrics.  Here are a few:

·       Over the course of our work together as part of Project SMART, our team members secured $40 million in research funding!  That is, we brought in $8 for each $1 provided by AIHS to our interdisciplinary team

·       We published more than 380 peer-reviewed papers

·       We trained more than 75 graduate students, undergraduate students and post-doctoral fellows

·       Our trainees secured more than $2 million in competitive scholarships and awards

·       We employed more than 30 support staff and clinical liaisons

·       We trained more than 250 frontline providers in our innovative technologies

·       We completed a Phase I (safety, feasibility and acceptability) study

·       Our Smart-e-Pants invention for the prevention of pressure ulcer was selected as one of the top 10 new and emerging health technologies on the 2015 Watch List by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) – https://www.cadth.ca/environmental-scanning/cnesh/top-10-new-and-emerging-health-technology-watch-list.

·       We hosted and organized a very successful international conference – http://ifess2012.com/

·       We engaged many community groups, clinical centres and private industry

·       We became recognized as a team by our field

These outstanding accomplishments have allowed us to expand our activities and attract new members.  We are very excited about the expansion of our work in the areas of postural control and balance, sensitive bio-mechanical sensing, 3D tissue cultures, early detection of deep tissue injury, real-time machine learning, sensory motor integration of artificial limbs and prevention of deep vein thrombosis.

Our team’s accomplishments and reputation facilitated the success of our Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Leading Edge Fund grant which secured nearly $8 million to establish the Centre for Neural Interfaces and Rehabilitation Neuroscience (CNIRN). CNIRN, to open officially soon, provides a physical centre that houses much of our team’s activities and brings to campus state-of-the-art tools and technologies.  I am very excited about the huge potential ahead of us and the marvellous discoveries and clinical implementations that await us.  Very importantly, our team has been highlighted at international meetings on research impact assessment by AIHS as the example of a successful team with demonstrable impact of research and return on investment.

It gives me great pleasure to announce continued successes by our team members and trainees.  To name only a few of the recent awards and honours (since April 2015):

·       Anastasia Elias was honoured with the Early Accomplishment Award, a very well-deserved award from APEGA (Professionals in Engineering and Geoscience in Alberta) –  https://www.apega.ca/Members/Awards/SA2015/early_accomplishment.html

·       Craig Sherstan secured a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – making him the third trainee in so many years from our team to secure this national lucrative award

·       I was granted the University of Alberta Department of Medicine Translational Research Award

Before I sign off, I would like to thank each and every one of you for the incredible people you have been and the outstanding spirit you brought to our work together as a team.  I would also particularly like to thank the dedicated work of our administrative staff who made it possible for us to perform our activities.  Special thanks go to Rahul Samant, Franco Dottor, Ken Fyfe, Nikki Wilson, Jane Holman, Mary Gartner and Christine Tyrie for providing outstanding support.

Onwards and upwards team!  I’m looking forward to the next chapter of our work together.

Current Research Projects

1) Restoring Standing and Stepping after Spinal Cord Injury through the Use of Intraspinal Micro stimulation

The restoration of standing and walking after spinal cord injury has the benefits of improving muscle and skin properties, joint health and bone density, and cardiovascular and pulmonary function. Intraspinal micro stimulation (ISMS) is a novel electrical stimulation technique that uses very fine, hair-like wires to stimulate the “control center” for standing and stepping in the spinal cord. The micro wires are implanted in a relatively small region of the cord (about 5 cm) and patterned stimulation through these wires can generate coordinated muscle contractions in the legs. These contractions produce balanced standing and walking movements. This is a large project focused on assessing the long-term functionality and benefits of ISMS and its effects on muscle health.

2)Reduction of Spasticity after Spinal Cord Injury and Stroke

Spasticity is a very debilitating side effect of spinal cord injury and stroke. It can lead to uncontrolled spasms and compromise the efficiency of residual voluntary function. This project focuses on obtaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of spasticity using computer modeling, and developing surface electrical stimulation and training paradigms that would reduce spasticity in individuals with spinal cord injury and stroke.

3) Restoration of Arm Function

A staggering 1.3% of the population has some type of neurological deficit, many of whom have diminished arm function. In an effort to alleviate the significant health care costs associated with the treatment of these ailments, as well as provide individuals with a greater level of independence, we are working towards rehabilitative interventions to improve arm function. Such interventions include both operant conditioning and FES training.