Team treatment — exercise with spinal injury

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Dr. Brian Schmit understands that a combination of approaches is often the best way to find answers and solve problems. In his latest research, the professor of biomedical engineering assembled a team of collaborators across campus to study cardiovascular systems during exercise in people with incomplete spinal cord injuries.

“When you hear spinal cord injury, you think paralysis,” Schmit says. “But only about half of people with spinal cord injuries are paralyzed. Exercise is extremely important. They can’t move as much or as well, so cardiovascular health is compromised.”

Schmit’s research won a five-year $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It is expected to have a direct impact on the clinical management of rehabilitation in people with spinal cord injuries. “The results of this study will have implications for exercise training to improve functional movement, including walking, in these patients,” he says. “We’re looking at issues like blood flow, cardiovascular health and muscular activity, all done in a clinical setting.”

THE TEAM

For Schmit, the clinical aspect is key, which is why he asked Dr. Allison Hyngstrom, assistant professor of physical therapy in the College of Health Sciences, to join the research team. Hyngstrom, who has a doctorate in neuroscience and a degree in physical therapy, studies motor impairment, muscle fatigue and rehabilitative treatment for people who have had strokes.

Schmit also enlisted Dr. Alexander Ng, associate professor of exercise science and an expert on blood flow as it relates to exercise under impaired conditions. “After spinal cord injury, all of the normal pathways become disrupted,” Ng says. “That’s what makes this research so important.”

Several participants are under-going a variety of tests, the results of which will be processed. Dr. Naveen Bansal, professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science, is leading those efforts. “In the past, my research was mostly based in theory,” he says. “Now I see myself as the expert whose role is to formulate problems from different disciplines into statistical frameworks. Problems like this are difficult to solve without cross-disciplinary collaboration.” • JL

“Biomedical engineering is collaborative by its very nature. As long as we can solve the problem, that’s all that matters.” — Dr. Brian Schmit

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