Department of  Neurosurgery
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Current Research — Ray Lab

Nerve regeneration: Sieve electrodes

We are investigating strategies to improve nerve regeneration and are focused on the development of innovative technology targeting peripheral nerve/neuroprosthetic interfaces.  The lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to effectively engineer novel technological platforms, medical devices and clinical therapies with significant potential for clinical translation. Lab members contribute diverse experiences and backgrounds in the fields of tissue engineering, device design, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and neurosurgery. 

Loss of motor and sensory function due to spinal cord, brachial plexus and/or peripheral nerve injuries can result in partial or total loss of motor and sensory function.  Despite aggressive reconstruction procedures, patients with spinal cord and nerve injuries are often left with permanent neurologic deficit. Using nanotechnology, it is possible to interface nerves with micro-machined electrodes to provide motor stimulation and sensory recording.  Our goal is to optimize a stable sieve electrode capable of providing simultaneous motor and sensory information to patients with spinal cord injury or severe nerve injuries.

Spinal cord Injury

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a significant public health problem with approximately 12,000 new cases each year. Tetraplegia, or injury at the level of the cervical spine, is the most common type of paralysis representing over 60% of new cases of SCIs.  Although significant resources have been invested into identifying neuroprotective or neuroregenerative agents that produce reliable improvements in neurologic function after an SCI, there remains a significant void in meaningful therapeutic interventions.

A major shortcoming limiting efforts to improve the treatment of SCI is the lack of quantifiable metrics on which to base clinical decisions.  Biomarkers are emerging in many fields as valuable predictors of a patient’s clinical course and response to therapy.  Noninvasive techniques such as magnetic resonanceimaging (MRI), and in particular diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), may serve as a useful biomarker for neurologic diseases such as spinal cord injury.  One of our long-term goals is to establish and validate noninvasive imaging biomarkers that are predictors of clinical course and therapeutic response after a cervical SCI.   Our central hypothesis is that axonal injury produced by acute SCI results in alterations of DTI parameters that are predictive of acute and chronic neurologic function. We hypothesize that brain DTI parameters will change with cortical reorganization and in response to chronic denervation after an SCI.  The identification and validation of such noninvasive DTI biomarkers will provide guidance for both clinical management and long-term prognosis. We also expect these findings will serve as a useful tool in counseling families and in patient selection for future SCI clinical trials.