The Movement Recovery Lab Receives Phase II NIH Grant

Grant Enables Laboratory Sensory Testing for Hemiplegia Research

June 21, 2023
Movement Recovery Lab SensiTrak team with Vulintus

Movement Recovery Lab's SensiTrak team with Vulintus

The Movement Recovery Laboratory at the Columbia University Weinberg Family Cerebral Palsy Center, led by Jason Carmel, MD, PhD, has been awarded a grant to develop a laboratory testing system of sensation, which is key for arm and hand function. The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant totaling $774,000 over two years is the second phase of a collaboration with long term partner Vulintus, Inc; Phase 1 was awarded in 2021.

The system, which we call SensiTrak (see a 2 min demo), enables laboratory testing of forelimb (arm/hand) sensation, which we have found is critical to dexterity in people with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Rats communicate whether they can feel by performing an action. For the sense of touch, they reach to grab a handle that vibrates for a time that varies in duration and, therefore, difficulty. If the rat perceives the vibration, they are taught to release the handle. Similarly, for the sense of proprioception or knowing where the forelimb is in space, rats are taught to move to the left or right depending on whether the handle moves in that direction. The system rewards the rats with a food pellet if they perform the task correctly and measures their performance on tasks of varying difficulty. In these ways we can quantify their ability to feel touch or where their forelimb is in space.

“My patients with hemiplegia do not use their affected arm because they can’t feel it. As we develop new techniques to engage sensory nerves with electrical stimulation, we need tools to measure the behavioral effects," explained Director of the Movement Recovery Laboratory, Jason Carmel, MD, PhD. "This new tool will provide a robust and reproducible behavior outcome when studying repair of the sensory system in rodent model of hemiplegic CP.”

In Phase 1 of this STTR project, the laboratory constructed SensiTrak system prototypes for validation and bench testing and tested the reliability of SensiTrak to measure vibrotactile function. Under Phase 2, the lab will continue to develop and validate SensiTrak - this includes finalization and certification of a common controller and modules for assessing tactile, vibration, and proprioception discrimination thresholds. The goal is to complete the development of the SensiTrak testing platform and to finalize the system for commercialization.

“When Phase II is complete, we will have a fully developed SensiTrak product line that will empower researchers with capabilities to reliably measure tactile and proprioceptive functions in early preclinical models,” said Aditya Ramamurthy, MS, Lab Manager of the Movement Recovery Lab. “This should ultimately improve the translation of therapies from preclinical investigations to clinical practice.”

Translational research at the Movement Recovery Lab is aimed at improving function for people living with paralysis. As a physician-scientist, Dr. Camel’s goal is to direct a truly translational program by modeling human injury and therapy in the laboratory and then using those results to design better treatments for people with cerebral palsy.

“After developing the SensiTrak tool, we intend to test whether electrical stimulation of sensory nerves can restore sensation and improve forelimb use”, said Dr. Carmel. “Thus, this represents a bedside to bench approach, taking a clinical problem into the lab to develop methods to understand and treat it with the goal of bringing a new therapy to improve dexterity in patients.”