This is a collaborative project with Dr. Zev Rymer and Dr. Milap Sandhu.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) disrupts the pathways between the central nervous system and the periphery, resulting in impairment of motor control and loss of independent mobility. Although some degree of spontaneous recovery may occur in the weeks to months following an incomplete SCI, it is often inadequate to restore normal function. One of the most promising approaches to induce neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections) is exposure to brief and mild levels of low oxygen, also known as acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH). We now know that daily sessions of AIH, when coupled with over-ground walking training, is more effective in enhancing walking function compared to walking training alone, in individuals with SCI.
Although AIH holds promise as a non-invasive strategy to enhance motor recovery, about 25% patients with SCI do not respond to this therapy and one factor could be systemic inflammation, due to chronic activation of the immune system. We are currently testing this hypothesis by quantifying inflammatory markers in the blood of patients with SCI, before and after AIH therapy. In addition, we are extracting DNA from the same patients to investigate potential links between responsiveness to AIH and genetic/familiar background. We believe that understanding the potential link between genes, inflammation and neuroplasticity after AIH will accelerate the development of this promising new treatment modality for clinical applications.
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