Patients use the Lokomat


Spinal Cord Injury Model System Center


Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center




Conditions that affect the spinal cord are many, but paralysis due to spinal cord injury (SCI) is a highly complex condition and occurs relatively infrequently around the globe. As such, SCI care in the United States has commanded a national approach — a “Model System” — with regional care and research centers that are commissioned to reduce mortality and improve outcomes.

In partnership with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, we are one of the country’s original five Model System Spinal Cord Injury Centers, established in 1970 as designated by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), now the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

The SCI Model Systems are specialized programs of care in SCI that gather information and conduct research with the goal of improving long-term functional, vocational, cognitive, and quality-of-life outcomes for individuals with SCI.

Today, after more than five decades of Model System work, we are an established leader in innovative, integrated, interdisciplinary care for people with SCI. Key to these efforts is our research involving new methods of enhancing medical and functional outcomes.

The Benefits of a Model System


As a Model System, we provide the essential components necessary to help our patients return to the community and lead productive lives.

  • Commitment to ongoing communication with the referring physician and case manager
  • Early involvement of physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists while the patient is still in acute care
  • Dedicated neuroscience intensive care unit and specially trained staff
  • Acute spinal cord injury team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • Individualized plan of care for each patient, including surgery and rehabilitation
  • Re-evaluation services available as early as eight months post-injury and throughout the patient's lifetime
  • Specialized rehabilitation services: robot-assisted walking therapy, urology clinic, wheelchair and seating center and more unique SCI-centered programs 

Leading with Technology + Science


At the AbilityLab, spinal cord injury patients are among the first to participate in innovative treatments to bring greater independence and functional ability. Research findings are rapidly adopted into everyday practice for immediate patient benefit.

  • Robot-assisted walking therapy with the Lokomat® uses a robotic gait orthosis to support the patient as he or she walks on a body-weight-supported treadmill. A computer controls the pace of walking and measures the body's movement.
  • The prototype KineAssist™ walking and balance exercise system is a motorized platform with a "smart brace" that supports the patient's trunk and pelvis while standing. Because it allows patients to lean or swing without falling, it can help patients learn to walk again.
  • The BrainGate™ Neural Interface System has enabled some people with disabilities to perform basic tasks – such as checking email, typing messages, and adjusting the television or other environmental controls – by simply thinking about it.

Our goal is to maximize the potential for neurological recovery and to minimize and treat any associated conditions or complications with the hope of expediting recovery and rehabilitation for individuals with spinal cord injury.

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