This project will develop a new protocol to strengthen connections between the brain and spinal cord. This involves asking people to make repetitive movements in time to an auditory beat. We use the highly regular and predictable nature of such movements to time electrical stimulation of a nerve accurately. By doing this repeatedly, connections are strengthened. In this project, we will use studies in healthy people to optimise this protocol. We will then implement the best protocol in a portable device which can be used at home. Finally, we will test whether this device can improve hand and arm function when it is used by people with cervical spinal cord injury. If successful, the result will be a low cost, simple new therapy to improve the ability to perform activities of daily living.
At the end of this project, if successful we will have optimised the new protocol, revealed the underlying mechanisms, and proven a functional benefit to people with SCI. We expect to patent the protocol soon. We will thus have everything needed to partner with a company to commercialise the device, or start a spinout company. This will enable people with SCI to buy devices directly, which is a feasible way to disseminate the approach quickly given the expected low device cost. Eventually, we hope that the technology will be included in standard NHS care pathways. The SCI community will benefit from improved hand and arm function, with a treatment that does not involve drugs (and hence has no side effects), and can be delivered in the home environment.