Aaron Phillips and Grégoire Courtine, University of Calgary, Physiology and Pharmacology, Calgary, Canada

Long-term sympathetically-targeted epidural stimulation to restore blood pressure stability

Funded in: 2019, 2020, 2021


Back to overview

Problem: Autonomic dysfunction is a top health priority after spinal cord injury. Cardiovascular issues are the number one cause of death

Target: Establish electrical stimulation to restore autonomic control of blood pressure

Goal: Provide a novel, rapid, non-pharmacologic therapy to improve the care and management of blood pressure instability

Autonomic dysfunction (i.e., the loss of unconscious control of many of the body’s systems) is a top health priority after spinal cord injury (SCI), and cardiovascular issues (i.e., a major autonomic function) are the number one cause of death.
Brief, but severe, decreases and increases in blood pressure are some of the most common effects of autonomic dysfunction after SCI and these issues are well-established risk factors for stroke and heart attack (both of which those with SCI suffer from at an alarming rate).

The clinical options for managing swings in blood pressure are limited. Drugs are designed to either increase or decrease blood pressure, and most last hours to a full day, meaning that clinically managing blood pressure in those with SCI is extremely difficult.

New technology capable of electrically stimulating the spinal cord, or “neuroprosthetics”, has become a promising therapy for recovering voluntary motor function after a spinal cord injury.
This pilot data shows that this same intervention may be able to restore autonomic control of blood pressure.

This study aims to:
a) utilize targeted spinal electrical stimulation to acutely improve autonomic/cardiovascular function after SCI
b) employ chronic spinal electrical stimulation to neurorehabilitate autonomic control of blood pressure after SCI
c) understand the mechanisms underlying neuroprosthetic-mediated improvements of autonomic function after SCI

This technology would provide a novel, rapid, non-pharmacologic therapy to improve the care and management of blood pressure instability after a spinal cord injury and should improve the quality and quantity of life with people living with this condition.