MAR 11, 2020 12:00 PM PDT

PANEL: A Neuroscience-Based Approach to Restoration of Sensorimotor Function After Spinal Cord Injury

Presented at: Neuroscience 2020
C.E. Credits: P.A.C.E. CE Florida CE
  • Assistant Professor, Rehab Neural Engineering Labs, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
      Robert Gaunt, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Gaunt received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alberta in 2008 and received his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Douglas Weber at the University of Pittsburgh. He maintains a secondary appointment with the Department of Bioengineering.

      Dr. Gaunt's primary research interests are in the area of sensorimotor control and the development of neuroprosthetic devices. He works on developing methods to restore and improve bladder function using electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves and on interfaces with the spinal cord and brain to monitor natural sensory activity and generate artificial sensations. These technologies will enable advanced neuroprosthetic devices with sensory capabilities.
    • Tenured Professor & UPMC Endowed Vice Chair, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; Senior Medical Directo, Post-Acute Care, Health Service Division, UPMC
        Michael Boninger, MD is a tenured professor and UPMC endowed vice chair for research in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He is senior medical director for Post-Acute Care for the Health Service Division of UPMC and President for UPMC Innovative Homecare Solutions. Dr. Boninger holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Rehabilitation Sciences and Technology, Clinical Translational Science Institute, and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He is also a physician researcher for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Boninger's central research focus is on enabling increased function and participation for individuals with disabilities through development and application of assistive, rehabilitative and regenerative technologies. Dr. Boninger is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury, a National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) Center of Excellence.
      • Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh, Rehab Neural Engineering Labs, Biomedical Engineer, VA R&D Center of Excellence
          Jennifer Collinger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh and a Research Biomedical Engineer at the VA R&D Center of Excellence. Dr. Collinger's research interests are related to the use of neuroprosthetics and neurorehabilitation to restore function for individuals with upper limb paralysis or loss. In order to do so, her research program focuses on understanding the motor control of upper limb movements in both able-bodied participants and people with motor impairments. Currently, she is part of a team that is developing intracortical brain-computer interface technology for individuals with tetraplegia. This provides a unique opportunity to study sensorimotor cortical activity during complex motor behaviors.


        Approximately 300,000 people in the United States have a spinal cord injury with many of these individuals experiencing permanent motor and sensory deficits. For individuals with cervical spinal cord injury, restoration of arm and hand function is a top priority.  Our team is developing a bidirectional brain-computer interface (BCI) to address this priority.  Neural activity is recorded from the motor cortex and movement intention can be decoded and used as a control signal for a robotic arm and hand.  The relationship between neural activity and movement intention derived during attempted movements in someone with spinal cord injury is similar to that measured during overt movements in intact subjects.  The use of biomimetic decoding approaches enables robust performance approaching that of an able-bodied person without significant training or learning.  We have also shown that a biomimetic approach can be used to restore the sense of touch through microstimulation of electrodes implanted in the somatosensory cortex. Tactile sensations restored with the BCI feel like they originate from the participant’s own hand and can be graded in intensity. Sensations are evoked in a spatially organized manner as would be expected from neurophysiologic studies in able-bodied subjects.  Finally, we show that BCI performance on functional tasks involving object transport is improved substantially with the addition of sensory feedback, even for tasks that were performed well with only vision.

        Learning Objectives:

        1. Introduce the audience to the impact of spinal cord injury

        2. Describe biomimetic principles that guide the development of bidirectional brain-computer interfaces

        3. Present data to demonstrate significantly improved brain-computer interface performance when visual feedback is supplemented with restored tactile sensations

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