Michael Kilgard, University of Texas, Dallas, USA

Enhancing Recovery with Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Funded in: 2020, 2021, 2022


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Problem: Rewiring of neurons in the brain and spinal cord
Target: Improve recovery of motor and sensory function
Goal: Develop Vagus Nerve Stimulation-based rehabilitative strategies

The goal of this clinical trial is to test a therapy, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) in combination with rehabilitation, on its ability to improve recovery of motor and sensory function after spinal cord injury. Short, low level pulses of electricity are used to activate the vagus nerve, one of the twelve cranial nerves, which cause the release of chemicals (called neuromodulators) in the central nervous system. When applied in an experimental setting, the release of these chemicals appears to encourage the rewiring of neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Pre-clinical spinal cord injury studies facilitating this approach were already funded by Wings for Life. With two clinical trials in chronic stroke patients confirming that VNS helps with recovery of motor function already been completed, examining spinal cord injury is the next logical step.
The researchers are testing whether VNS paired with physical rehabilitation is safe and can increase recovery of hand and arm function in patients with incomplete cervical SCI.
If this trial demonstrates that VNS can improve the benefits of upper limb rehabilitation, it will provide the basis to develop rehabilitative strategies for other common post-SCI impairments, including motor dysfunction of the lower limbs, somatosensory loss, and bowel and bladder dysfunction.