ASU secures $3.9 million to study spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders

September 27, 2005

TEMPE, Ariz. -Ranu Jung and James Abbas are on a roll. The ASU researchers recently secured four grants totaling $3.9 million to advance efforts to repair or replace lost function for people with spinal cord injury or other neurological disorders.

Jung and Abbas co-direct the Center for Rehabilitation Neuroscience and the Rehabilitation Engineering at ASU's Biodesign Institute. The Center's focus is on developing and utilizing new scientific knowledge and engineering technology to address the complex physiological, medical and societal problems presented by neurological disability.

In April, Jung was awarded $404,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to design, fabricate and test a neural clamp for recording activity from the spinal cord that may someday guide development of "smart" prosthetics. In June, Jung received a $1.3 million NIH grant to purchase a sophisticated imaging system. In July, Abbas received an $870,000 NIH grant to create a system that may allow those with spinal cord injuries to regain greater independent function. Most recently, Jung received a $1.3 million computational neuroscience grant from the NIH in August to gain a comprehensive understanding of spinal cord injuries in the hopes of developing advanced models for rehabilitative treatments.

"Securing the resources to do this research expands our opportunity for greater discovery and design," said Abbas, "We work with many individuals who have spinal cord injuries or neurological diseases. They give us inspiration to do everything possible to translate our research quickly into innovative, tangible applications to improve human health and quality of life."

Jung added, "The days of the doubling of the NIH budget are behind us and research funding is increasingly competitive. We are delighted that, despite these challenges, our center has been on a path of success in getting new NIH funding. One of our primary goals is designing techniques to investigate, replace and repair damaged neural systems to provide better mobility."

Jung and Abbas are also both associate professors in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering within ASU's Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. Jung is also affiliate faculty in electrical engineering at ASU and Abbas is director of Clinical Rehabilitation Engineering at Banner Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. The funding from the received grants will be distributed over multiple years.

Grant descriptions:

Active Micro Electromechanical System Neural Clamps

Developing the new generation of user-controlled intelligent-prosthetic systems that replace missing limbs in amputees will require the design of novel sensors to communicate between the nervous system and the artificial arm or leg. This grant, funded by the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at NIH is for development of micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) neural clamps. These tiny devices will utilize semiconductor microfabrication technology to integrate mechanical elements, sensors, and electronics to record neural signals from the nerve roots of the spinal cord.

"The project requires expertise on several fronts, but what is most novel is the development of clamps small enough to latch onto the spinal roots," said Jung. Spinal roots can be only millimeters wide"

In addition to Jung, the team includes two associate professors in ASU's Fulton School, Stephen Phillips in electrical engineering and James Sweeney, Harrington Department Bioengineering.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging/Spectroscopy System
ASU was one of 11 universities selected by NIH's National Center for Research Resources to purchase this high-end imaging instrumentation. The MRI system will be the only one of its kind in the Valley and, will be available to other biomedical research institutions in Arizona.

Tracking the progress of disease is critical in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of neurologically degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's as well as traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries and stroke. A grant to purchase a state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy system will provide scientists an opportunity to advance basic biomedical discoveries aimed at improving human health.

The $1.3 million high-resolution, 7.0 Tesla magnetic imaging system will allow 2-D and 3-D image reconstruction. With a resolution below 100 micrometers, the system allows researchers to see tissues or structures smaller than the width of a human hair.

In addition to Jung, other team members on this project include faculty from the schools of life sciences and engineering at ASU, Eric Reiman, M.D. from Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center; Mark Preul, M.D. and Adrienne Scheck, M.D., Barrows Neurological Institute.

Adaptive Electrical Stimulation for Locomotor Retraining

Recent studies indicate that individuals with spinal cord injury may be able to enhance their functional recovery of movement by performing repetitive stepping movements. Currently, individuals perform this therapy on a treadmill supported by a harness and passive assistance provided by therapists. The repetition is believed to help the body to re-learn how to generate suitable signals in the brain and spinal cord that will enable them to step independently.

With the $850,000 grant from NIH's National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research, Abbas and Jung will develop a neuroprosthetic system to electrically stimulate muscles to produce repeatable stepping movements with coordinated sensory and motor patterns. By using the stimulation to contract the muscles in an orchestrated manner that mimics natural muscle movement, the team hopes to improve the therapy and reduce reliance on a supportive harness. The adaptive nature of the control mechanism puts some 'intelligence' in the system to provide only the stimulation that is required, encouraging the person to do more of the work. This project is a joint effort with Richard Herman, M.D. and others at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, where Abbas also serves as director of Clinical Rehabilitation Engineering.

Modeling Neuromusculoskeletal Alterations after Spinal Cord Injury

The interactions between the nervous system and the body mechanics enable us to perform a variety of movements. Damage to one part of this system, such as a traumatic spinal cord injury, can lead to changes in other components of this system due to their close interactions and adaptability. In some instances, the changes result in a recovery of function; in other cases they can result in a reduction of movement.

Over 200,000 people in the United States are currently living with spinal cord injury related mobility, employability and secondary health related limitation. This $1.3 million collaborative research in computational neuroscience grant from the NIH's National Institute for Neurological Disorder and Stroke will give Jung and Abbas the funds to study the effects of spinal cord injuries in hopes of developing a treatment technique and appropriate rehabilitative therapies to enhance functional movement recovery and increase the quality of life for people with spinal cord injury.

By looking at the interactions of the impaired spinal cord, its spinal reflexes and the changes related to the musculoskeletal components after a spinal cord injury, the team will come up with the design for improved strategies for appropriate therapy.

In addition to Jung and Abbas, collaborators on this project include Thomas Hamm, Barrows Neurological Institute; Anshuman Razdan, ASU; a Valley-based scientific and engineering consulting firm, Exponent, Inc. and University of Michigan.
The Biodesign Institute at ASU integrates diverse fields of science to cure and prevent disease, overcome the limitations of injury, renew the environment and improve national security. For information, visit or call (480) 727-8322.

The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering provides a transformative educational experience for engineering, computer science and construction students, giving them the knowledge and skills they need for success in a technically oriented career. The school also engages in use-inspired research in a multidisciplinary setting, creating knowledge for the benefit of individuals, society and the environment. For information, visit

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