We are excited to announce funding for 2 new projects, both of which will improve rehabilitation prospects for people with tetraplegia as a result of Spinal Cord Injury. We held a webinar on 9th June to launch these projects. If you missed it, you can view the highlights here.

The reality of life with SCI

SMSR Ambassador Pete Apps discusses life with a Spinal Cord Injury, and how research from SMSR makes a difference.

PhD project: Using Virtual Reality for Upper Limb Rehabilitation in acute Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Led by Glasgow Caledonian University, with inpatients at Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow.

The aim of this exciting three-year project is to explore the role of virtual reality (VR) as a form of assistive technology to improve upper limb function in people with acute/sub-acute tetraplegia following SCI. The most common type of spinal cord injury is incomplete tetraplegia, which results from injury to the vertebrae in the neck, and accounts for almost half of all SCIs.

The lead researcher will apply their experience in serious game design to design, test and evaluate the feasibility of VR games in improving hand and arm function in this patient group. Earlier studies suggest that VR Training can improve motor and aerobic function as well as balance, and reduce pain. Users also found VR training much more motivating and engaging than conventional therapy. However, the number of studies and data is limited, and so far, there have been no studies evaluating its use in the acute phase following SCI, when there is most potential for recovery.

£110,000 for robotic rehabilitation project

Assessment of a robotic exoskeleton for upper limb rehabilitation in people with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Led by the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Liverpool

With limited or no hand function, people with tetraplegia can become completely reliant on family and carers for their most basic needs. Research shows, however, that robotic rehabilitation can promote the reorganisation of circuitries in the brain and thus augment upper limb functionality.

This two-year study will test the only portable and commercially available robotic device (‘exoskeleton’) for the first time on people with incomplete tetraplegia. It has already been used successfully for arm rehabilitation by people with stroke and brachial plexus injuries who had reached a plateau with traditional rehabilitation. The team will assess the advantages and limitations of this device using two groups of patients – an intervention group (that will undergo rehabilitation using the exoskeleton in addition to the traditional rehabilitation programme) and a control group that will receive traditional rehabilitation only. If the team finds that this portable device improves upper limb mobility, it will offer patients the opportunity to self-manage at home and ease the burden of SCI.