Exploring new ways to preserve and restore function and mobility
Mobility Project researchers are exploring numerous ways to preserve or restore function and mobility after neurological injury. Some of this work is underway through the $14 million Functional Restoration Project, which received nearly $6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).
For example, Dr. Vic Rafuse is leading several groundbreaking projects to engineer stem cells into functioning motor neurons capable of connecting to the appropriate muscles. Motor neurons are the nerve cells in the spinal cord that enable us to move. They die in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Diseaes) and are damaged in spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries. He and Dr. Rob Brownstone are pioneering a new technology to restore hand movement in peripheral nerve injuries.
While more basic research is needed to restore limb movement after spinal cord injury, some Mobility Project researchers are close to ways of preserving or restoring other functions. For example, Dr. Dan Marsh is investigating ways to put a damper on the inflammation that causes so much additional damage following spinal cord injury. This could preserve sexual function and bladder, bowel and blood pressure control, as well as some mobility. Dr. David Westwood is studying how visual attention and eye movements relate to the control of arm and hand movements, to lay the groundwork for new treatments and assistive devices for people with movement disorders.
Mobility can also be severely compromised by osteoarthritis. Biomedical engineer Dr. Janie Astephen Wilson is studying how patterns of motion, force-loading and muscle-firing during walking lead to osteoarthritis of the knee. Her work is part of a larger effort to develop therapies that will delay or prevent the need for total knee replacement surgery. At the same time, she is shedding light on the interplay between the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system during walking, setting the stage for future collaborations with fellow Mobility Project researchers.