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Monday, October 2, 2023

Life + Arts

UH to recuperate motor impairments

Researchers at UH could change thousands of paralyzed Americans’ lives with new rehabilitative methods.

During the winter break, the Department of Health and Human Performance’s Laboratory for Integrated Physiology moved to the Texas Medical Center, allowing greater access for those most in need of treatment.

‘Now more patients see us, and this enables the work to advance so that we offer the most cutting-edge therapies available,’ said professor Charles Layne, chairman of the HHP department.

The Laboratory for Integrated Physiology focuses on advancing rehabilitative treatments for diseases and disorders that affect motor control – impairments that limit the mobility of thousands of people in the U.S.

Every year, nearly 10,000 Americans are fully or partially paralyzed by spinal cord injuries, and another 50,000 are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the causes and conditions are different, both result in the loss of neurological control of muscle movement.

Health and human performance associate professor Adam Thrasher said that many patients have healthy muscles, but have difficulty mobilizing them.

Utilizing specially equipped treadmills and cameras linked to advanced software, Thrasher and his colleagues are able to assess how the muscle activity of an impaired individual changes in response to treatment.

Another issue that arises in people with motor impairments is muscle atrophy. Because of lack of use, the muscle tissue decreases in size, strength and functionality.

Thrasher uses a piece of equipment called a functional electrical stimulation bicycle to recondition the leg muscles of paralyzed individuals.

‘This is a device that a person can bring their wheelchair right up to, put their feet in the straps, and we can electrically stimulate their leg muscles,’ Thrasher said.

The electrical stimulation mimics the signal that the muscle would receive from a nerve and causes it to contract.

While not reversing paralysis, this treatment still provides substantial benefits such as muscle growth, increased bone density and improved cardiovascular performance.

‘These individuals aren’t trying to walk again, they are just trying to get a decent workout and maintain their health as best they can,’ Thrasher said.

Thrasher and his team have discovered that this same type of electrical stimulation can improve the muscle condition in people with full-body paralysis.

‘We are working with people with complete spinal cord injuries to come up with the best techniques to recondition their muscles,’ Thrasher said. ‘We are not expecting miracles, but we can make a real substantial difference in the health of these individuals.’

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