Gr├ęgoire Courtine, EPFL, Geneva, Switzerland

Elucidating mechanisms underlying functional repair following spatiotemporal stimulation

Funded in: 2020, 2021, 2022


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Problem: Cervical spinal cord injury disrupts a number of physiological functions and recovery of upper limb function is the number one priority
Target: Conceptual and technological framework to maximise restoration of upper limb function
Goal: Transfer the concept and neurotechnologies of electrical stimulation to the cervical spinal cord

Cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) disrupts a number of physiological functions, which dramatically impact the quality of life of affected individuals. Recovery of upper limb function is the number one priority for these patients. The scientists have previously shown that electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord combined with robot-assisted gait rehabilitation restored walking in humans with chronic SCI. The aim of the current project is to transfer these concepts and neurotechnologies to the cervical spinal cord in order to maximise restoration of upper limb function in a preclinical model of cervical contusion SCI. Specifically, the research group will develop electrical stimulation protocols that are delivered at the correct location and with the correct timing to facilitate the intended upper limb movements. These spatiotemporal stimulation protocols will facilitate rehabilitation of reaching and grasping movements using their newly developed robotic interface that assists upper limb movements during training. They hypothesise that these spatiotemporal stimulation protocols will promote the reorganisation of residual neuronal pathways, which will translate into a durable improvement of neurological recovery. To further the mechanistic understanding of this treatment, the researchers will perform in-depth anatomical and functional analyses to investigate this reorganisation and identify key neuronal pathways contributing to functional repair. They expect that this work will establish the conceptual and technological framework to maximise restoration of upper limb function in humans with cervical SCI.