(October, 2023) – Patrick D. Ganzer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering and The Miami Project, uses vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) as a means to various ends that are constituted by neuroplasticity. One form of VNS is to enhance the effects of rehabilitation interventions targeting upper extremity function following neurological injury. Although previous preclinical studies have demonstrated promising results using this therapeutic device combined with rehabilitation (leading to a Phase 1 clinical trial testing VNS paired with rehabilitation following spinal cord injury), the mechanisms underlying recovery are not well understood.
New funding for Dr. Ganzer from a NIH R01 grant for $2.4 million will allow his team to explore upper extremity recovery following VNS paired with rehabilitation (VNS+Rehab) therapy in a model of tetraplegia allowing for interrogation of specific mechanisms. These experiments will use a wide range of techniques including wireless real-time blood pressure, neuromodulation, brain mapping, and anatomical tracing of nerves contributing to the plasticity.
“Vagus nerve stimulation has shown promise for treating a number of neurological diseases. Recent preclinical work has used VNS and rehabilitation to enhance the effects of upper limb rehabilitation following neurological injuries such as stroke, peripheral nerve injury, and spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Ganzer.
Excitingly, the FDA has now approved VNS+Rehab therapy for improving upper extremity motor function following ischemic stroke. The research funded on this exciting grant will allow Dr. Ganzer’s team to see if these VNS+Rehab upper extremity benefits transfer to a model of cervical spinal cord injury. We are very excited to pursue these studies through the joint effort of The Miami Project and the Department of Biomedical Engineering with our co-investigators Mark Nash, Ph.D., Associate Scientific Director for Research, The Miami Project, Vice-Chair for Research, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Professor, Departments of Neurological Surgery, Physical Medicine & Medicine and Physical Therapy, Co-Director, DHHS-NIDILRR South Florida SCI Model System, Dr. Robert Hamlin, and Pantelis Tsoulfas, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery and Cell Biology & Anatomy and The Miami Project.