$13.48M awarded to Johns Hopkins scientists to develop implantable ultrasound devices for patients with spinal cord injury

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$13.48M awarded to Johns Hopkins scientists to develop implantable ultrasound devices for patients with spinal cord injury

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | October 12, 2020 Ultrasound
A team of Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons and biomedical engineers has received $13.48 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop implantable ultrasound and other devices that could revolutionize care for people suffering from spinal cord injuries. The results could benefit thousands of U.S. service members and civilians who sustain spinal cord injuries every year.

The electronic device is planned to be the size and flexibility of a small Band-Aidä and will use high-resolution ultrasound technology to help doctors monitor and treat the changes in blood flow and prevent tissue death that occur immediately after a traumatic injury to the spinal cord.

The research program, supported by DARPA’s Bridging the Gap (BG+) program, will draw from the clinical expertise and ingenuity of its co-leaders, Nicholas Theodore, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery and Biomedical Engineering and Amir Manbachi, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neurosurgery and Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to bring the devices from concept to human use within an ambitious five-year timeline.

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“There are few places taking a close look at how engineering approaches could improve the treatment of spinal cord injuries. I think there are tremendous opportunities here,” says Theodore, who also worked for more than 10 years as a neurosurgeon in the U.S. Navy, treating soldiers and sailors with spinal cord injuries.

Though the primary mission of the team is to develop devices that can be deployed to service members on military fronts, the researchers aim to make the technology available to benefit the approximately 17,000 civilians who experience spinal cord injuries in the U.S. every year.

“The main factors that make a device useable in a war theatre are size and ease of application in low-resource settings — both of which can only improve our clinical approaches as well,” says Theodore.

The project’s strategy is to target the disruption in blood flow that occurs alongside injury to the spinal cord. By utilizing technology to image and stimulate the blood vessels and tissue at the site of spinal cord injury, as well as controlling spinal fluid dynamics, the delivery of oxygen and nutrients can be optimized. This approach could prevent additional damage to the spinal cord, which can lead to increased inflammation, pain and worsening paralysis.

“There are very few treatment options available to minimize the damage initially — for example, increasing the patient’s blood pressure; however, we still need to understand, in real-time, how the body reacts to these treatments,” says Manbachi. “When Dr. Theodore described this challenge to me for the first time four years ago, as an acoustic engineer, I immediately thought to use ultrasound as a tool to monitor and stimulate these damaged tissues.”

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