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Craig research pushes boundaries in the field of neuroregenerative rehabilitation

August 10, 2017

Craig’s research focus has traditionally been clinical and translational, with an emphasis on approaches that inform treatments for patients, sometimes referred to as “bench to bedside.” In 2016, Craig welcomed a new medical director of research, Dr. Leslie Morse, whose expertise complements this strength with a focus on neurodegenerative research at the cellular and molecular levels.

Dr. Morse brings to Craig two funded research projects that are building knowledge and pushing boundaries in the field of neuroregenerative rehabilitation, specifically the treatment of osteoporosis in the spinal cord injury (SCI) population. Immobilization after spinal cord injury is associated with bone loss that leads to an increased likelihood of fractures in people with SCI.

Dr. Morse is conducting a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to determine the osteogenic benefits of statins (a common cholesterol medication) in acute SCI. The trial’s hypothesis is that a one-year course of simvastatin will prevent bone loss in the first year following SCI, as well as promote neurological recovery or reduce neuropathic pain following acute SCI.

The second study — a randomized, controlled clinical trial — explores the skeletal benefits of exoskeleton-assisted ambulation. The trial’s hypothesis is that reintroduction of ambulation will improve quality of life due to associated pain reduction and improvements in mood and functional connectivity of emotional networks in the brain. The study will also determine whether exoskeleton-assisted gait training increases bone strength in the paralyzed lower extremity.

A newly constructed laboratory at Craig and a donor-funded bone density scanner will assist in this work.

Dr. Morse and her team are also developing a new research focus in stem cell therapy for motor recovery after spinal cord injury using dental pulp found in teeth. In the future, Dr. Morse hopes to move to clinical trials to determine the safety and feasibility of developing this as a treatment for neurological injury.

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About the Craig Research Department

Craig’s Research Department searches for even more effective medical interventions and restorative solutions for those living with spinal cord and brain injuries.

With a staff of 22, the department oversees an annual budget of $3.6 million in federal, state, foundation and industry-sponsored grants. In addition, funds raised from the annual PUSH dinner and other fundraising efforts support basic and clinical research.

Many of the research funds donated to the Craig Hospital Foundation underwrite staff-generated clinical research pilot studies. The goal: building a culture of research to advance discoveries that inform treatment methods and ensure Craig continues to provide the most cutting-edge care to our patients and families.

Among the many current or recently completed pilot studies funded by the Foundation are:

  • An examination of health-related quality of life in patients with spinal cord injury utilizing Mitrofanoff catheterization.
  • An evaluation of the effect of altruistic volunteer activity on well-being after spinal cord injury.
  • A look at the incidence, clinical characteristics, complications and outcomes of patients diagnosed with post-traumatic hydrocephalus following acquired brain injury.
  • An observational case series measuring the impact of ankle/foot orthoses for persons with acquired brain injury or spinal cord injury and spasticity.
  • An investigation on the effect of rhythmic auditory stimulation on gait in traumatic brain injury.

Over the years, studies at Craig have helped shape new and more effective drug-, cellular-, surgical- and rehabilitation-based treatments.