The Movement Recovery Lab Receives Small Business Technology Transfer Grant

August 30, 2021

The Movement Recovery Laboratory at the Columbia University Weinberg Family Cerebral Palsy Center, led by Jason Carmel, MD, PhD, has recently been awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant in collaboration with Vulintus Inc. The current award is for $200,000, enabling the team to apply for a phase 2 submission that could go up to $1,000,000 in total costs for two years.

Dr. Carmel’s research compares the integrity of the descending motor systems and the sensory systems of the hand. In children with hemiplegia, impaired use of the arm and hand is much more strongly associated with injury of the sensory system than the motor system. In the clinic, somatosensory physiology is assayed with vibrotactile stimulation of the index finger, with discriminability being a strong predictor of hand function. Thus, vibration sensation is a good surrogate for the type of sensation needed for skilled hand use, but an analogous assessment has been largely missing in preclinical laboratory science because of the inability to measure touch and proprioception in animals.

This Phase I STTR proposes to develop and validate SensiTrak, an automated, high-throughput behavioral system designed to finely measure somatosensory function in rodent models. The project is significant because it would create a tool that could allow fundamental insights into somatosensation, and support studies into recovery of touch, proprioception, and movement. The basic neuroscience community would benefit from a tool that supports sensitive behavioral measures that are compatible with tools for anatomy and physiology, together providing insight into how somatosensory modalities are encoded and made into a representation of an individual’s interaction with the external world. The injury and repair field would benefit from a device that can quantify loss of function with injury and restoration from endogenous repair or exogenous therapies. SensiTrak would help to determine whether treatments for recovery of somatosensation are successful for restoring both somatosensation and functional movement. These fundamental insights could then be translated to improved therapies for people with loss of sensation and movement due to injury or disease.

Current methods of assessing somatosensory function in animal models largely depend on withdrawal responses to uncomfortable or painful stimuli, which does not translate well to more clinically relevant tests of touch and proprioception. In this Phase I STTR project, Vulintus, Inc., in collaboration with Columbia University, proposes to develop and test ‘SensiTrak,’ an automated, high-throughput operant behavioral system designed to finely measure somatosensory function in rodent models," said Aditya Ramamurthy, Lab Manager of the Movement Recovery Lab.

There are currently no commercially available systems for behavioral testing of limb touch and proprioception in rodents. Some research groups have developed custom systems for operant testing within their labs, but none have yet translated to market. The lack of off-the-shelf assessments to quantify somatosensory function sparked the present collaboration between Vulintus and the Movement Recovery Laboratory.