Robots, exercise and plasticity
The Spinal Plasticity Laboratory (SPL) studies the effects of exercise in a rat model of spinal cord injury. Currently, there is an NIH-funded project that uses robots to apply forces to the hindlimbs while rats step on a treadmill. The goal is to understand what kinds of robotic forces will be best for re-wiring spinal connections and for improving overground locomotion. This study is performed by current KNS graduate student, Erika Hinahon as well as Emanuel Ruiz and Christina Estrada.
A recent project examined the effects of treadmill exercise on glucose metabolism. Spinal cord injured rats were fed a high sugar/fat diet that produced hyperglycemia. Weight supported treadmill exercise improved their sensitivity to insulin so they could metabolize glucose better. This study was performed by Terry Traughber, a former KNS graduate student.
People with spinal cord injuries face multiple challenges. Walking for many of them is an issue but in addition to that, there are cardiovascular and metabolic disturbances that impact their overall health. We believe that locomotor exercise can be beneficial even for people with spinal cord injury. It is our hope that these experiments will lead to better, effective locomotor exercises.
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