Christine K. Thomas, Ph.D.
Dr. Christine Thomas passed away this December after a long battle with cancer. Chris will be greatly missed as she was a dedicated colleague, mentor to many and outstanding medical researcher. We have received many comments from colleagues and friends expressing their sadness. Christine was recruited to the University of Miami in 1990 to conduct basic and clinical research targeting spinal cord injury and to interface with a growing Miami Project research team. Chris quickly moved up the academic ladder and was promoted to Professor of Neurological Surgery in 2003. Over the years, Chris and colleagues conducted pioneering work on post-SCI neuromuscular changes that led to the use of functional electrical stimulation protocols as a new and exciting rehabilitation tool. I will always remember her sitting with SCI subjects surrounded by electrophysiological equipment as she accumulated data on signal motor unit recordings in SCI subjects. In addition to her studies clarifying mechanisms of muscle fatigue, Chris also conducted preclinical studies to investigate mechanistic questions. All of these studies were supported by federal and other funding agencies indicating the very high quality of her work and acknowledgement from her peers.
Chris was a very serious investigator who carefully analyzed her data and published in the best neurophysiological and neuroscience journals. Based on her many research contributions, Chris received many awards and was invited last year to give the commencement lecture at her alma mater, The University of Otago in New Zealand. At that time she told graduates that “with new technology we have lots of data, new ways to process it, but these are just tools, and tools do not solve the problem. The difficult task is to understand what you see and to turn that information to some use”. Chris will be remembered for obtaining and critically reviewing enormous amounts of data during her clinical investigations and coming up with new hypotheses that challenged the field.
Chris will be greatly missed but has left us all with valuable collection of data and instructive observations on which the SCI field can continue to grow.
Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery
Neuromuscular Weakness, Fatigue, Spasms and Regeneration
My research has addressed issues relating to peripheral nerve regeneration, neuromuscular fatigue, weakness and spasticity. Much of this work has involved human subjects and has required the use of surface and intramuscular EMG recordings at the whole muscle or single motor unit levels, intraneural stimulation and recording techniques, as well as measurements of peripheral and central conduction using electrical and magnetic stimulation. Now this knowledge is being applied to examine the neurophysiology of human spinal cord injury.
We have documented that muscle weakness and atrophy is often severe after human spinal cord injury. It relates to partial paralysis, denervation, poor voluntary drive, and/or altered use. Muscles paralyzed completely or partially by spinal cord injury are also highly fatigable. We aim to quantify this excessive force loss, to determine the factors that contribute to this fatigue, and to analyze whether the fatigue sites are central and/or peripheral. Information from these studies may help improve voluntary control of muscle, as well as systems used for functional electrical stimulation of paralyzed muscles.
Other projects examine spasms because muscles that are paralyzed by spinal cord injury are not always quiescent. A few weeks after injury, it is common for paralyzed muscles to contract involuntarily. Our research examines how extensive and intense this activity of paralyzed muscles is because on-going neural activity may prevent some muscle deterioration.
Our research has also expanded to include studies in rodents. These studies aim to develop ways to ameliorate denervated-induced muscle atrophy. We have shown that some function can be restored to denervated muscles by reinnervation from axons that grow from embryonic ventral spinal cord cells transplanted into nearby peripheral nerve. Our current studies aim to improve muscle strength by acute neuroprotective and activity-based interventions.
Society for Neuroscience