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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA Research on Spinal Cord Injury

February 17, 2021

VA Research Spotlight is a monthly roundup of research news on topics affecting Veterans' health. This month, our focus is on research that examines the impact of spinal cord injury in Veterans.

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury Fact Sheet

VA provides care to more than 27,000 Veterans with spinal cord injuries and related disorders each year, making the department the largest health care system in the world providing lifelong spinal cord care. VA research on SCI focuses on returning motor and sensory function to Veterans with these injuries. Research areas include neural engineering, wheelchair and other adaptive technology, treatment of the medical complications of SCI, and new rehabilitation methods and outcomes.


VA Research Currents

A new way to prevent pressure injuriesA new way to prevent pressure injuries
Monitoring fat levels in gluteus muscles may help Veterans and others with SCI avoid painful pressure injuries.... (01/27/2021)



VA researcher develops ‘smart bandage’ technology for chronic woundse VA researcher develops ‘smart bandage’ technology for chronic wounds
Researchers at the Advanced Platform Technology Center have developed a high-tech bandage that uses electrical stimulation to treat pressure injuries.... (09/09/2020)



Adaptive rock climbing has physical, psychological benefits for people with disabilities Adaptive rock climbing has physical, psychological benefits for people with disabilities
A new study finds that indoor rock climbing appears to offer a "unique array" of physical, social, and psychological benefits for those with disabilities, including those with amputations, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury.... (05/11/2020)



3D images, algorithms are key in potential new tool for measuring bedsores in spinal cord injury 3D images, algorithms are key in potential new tool for measuring bedsores in spinal cord injury
VA researchers are developing a new instrument for measuring bedsores, or pressure ulcers, using 3D cameras, tablet computers, and an algorithm. The work will mainly benefit Veterans with spinal cord injuries.... (04/23/2019)



VA Researchers Who Served

Nicholas Gatto Nicholas Gatto (01/20/21)
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
Main area of study: Pneumatic technology

"The possibility of making life better for Veterans through research at HERL is exactly what I wanted out of a career. I am grateful every day for the opportunity."

Dr. Ernest Bors Dr. Ernest Bors (10/05/20)
VA Long Beach Healthcare System
Main area of study: Spinal cord injury, neuro-urology

Dr. Ernest "Pappy" Bors pioneered many of VA's post-World War II advancements in treating patients with spinal cord injury.

James Joseph James Joseph (06/26/20)
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
Main area of study: Physical and mental disabilities

“I am inspired by President John F. Kennedy, who said, "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." That is a foundation I have believed in my whole life. ”



VA Research in Action

A skin monitor for hard-to-view body locations A skin monitor for hard-to-view body locations
Researchers at the Minneapolis VA have developed a device called SkinSyte that helps people monitor their skin in parts of the body that are difficult to see, such as their backsides and the bottoms of their feet.

VA Research News Briefs

Timed muscle stimulation makes wheelchair use easier

Timed muscle stimulation makes wheelchair use easier - Photo: ©iStock/ljubaphotoPhoto: ©iStock/ljubaphoto

Stimulating trunk and hip muscles at the right time can improve manual wheelchair propulsion, found a VA Advanced Platform Technology Center study. Researchers used an accelerometer attached to a manual wheelchair user’s wrist to time the two main phases of propulsion: contact and recovery. Using this data, they were able to time stimulation of trunk and hip muscles to assist in the movements. With properly timed stimulation, the wheelchair user had improved acceleration and reported that pushing the wheelchair was easier. The findings show that a simple accelerometer can detect wheelchair user movements. These measurements can improve muscle stimulation and make wheelchair use easier, say the researchers. (American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Jan. 11, 2021)



Neurostimulation could prevent wheelchair falls

Neurostimulation could prevent wheelchair falls - Photo: ©iStock/vadimguzhvaPhoto: ©iStock/vadimguzhva

Researchers with the VA Advanced Platform Technology Center in Cleveland developed a neurostimulation system to help stop users from falling out of wheelchairs. The team developed an algorithm to detect sudden stops during wheelchair use. Sudden stops are often a cause of falls in paralyzed wheelchair users. The team then tested the algorithm with three volunteers with spinal cord injury who had an implanted neurostimulation system and three nondisabled volunteers. When the program detected a sudden stop, the system triggered stimulation to stiffen the muscles of the user’s trunk. This allowed the user to maintain a seated posture. The system was able to detect sudden stops with a 93% success rate. The participants consistently reported feeling safer when the system signaled their implants to stiffen their muscles, providing more stability. The results suggest that the neurostimulation system could improve wheelchair safety for paralyzed users, according to the researchers. (Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, Aug. 14, 2020)



Implanted electrical stimulation device for paralysis safe and effective

Implanted electrical stimulation device for paralysis safe and effective - Photo: ©iStock/jxfzsyPhoto: ©iStock/jxfzsy

Researchers from VA’s Advanced Platform Technology Center showed that nerve health is maintained after implanting an electrode stimulation device in a patient with spinal cord injury (SCI). A patient with leg paralysis from an SCI was given an implanted nerve cuff electrode device to stimulate his leg muscles and allow him to stand. In the first such human trial, the researchers examined physiologic changes to the nerves during the surgery and a year later. After a year, the nerves remained healthy. The patient showed strengthened motor responses from the electrical stimulation. Some nerve irritation occurred during the surgery but did not continue afterwards. The results show that implanted electrodes to restore function after SCI can be safe and effective, according to the researchers. (Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, July 14, 2020)



New wheelchair design reduces bacterial contamination

New wheelchair design reduces bacterial contamination - Photo by April EilersPhoto by April Eilers

A new ergonomic wheelchair designed by Minneapolis VA researchers reduces bacterial hand contamination. In most manual wheelchairs, users push directly on the tires or on a push rim directly connected to the tires to move forward. This can allow contaminants from the ground to get on the hands. VA researchers designed a wheelchair with separate push rims connected to the wheels with a bicycle chain. The intent was to improve shoulder ergonomics. The researchers measured bacteria on the hands of volunteers using both the new design and standard wheelchairs in a hospital. Bacterial counts on the hands were 10-fold lower using the ergonomic wheelchair. The results show that this new design can keep wheelchair users’ hands cleaner in addition to improving shoulder ergonomics, according to the researchers. (Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, July 3, 2020)

View more VA Research News Briefs



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Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.