Translational Neurological Research

Neurological Research

Helen Hayes Hospital and The Wadsworth Center in Albany have joined forces on neurological rehabilitation research projects focused on restoring function, fostering independence and improving participation in society for people with disabilities resulting from neurological injury or disease. This joint venture further expands HHH’s commitment to clinical research directly related to the disabling disorders present in its patient population.

Improving Communication:
Brain Computer Interface Project

Progress in medical science now enables people with severe paralysis, including those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brainstem stroke, to live for many years. Many of these individuals have great difficulty communicating, some entering into a “locked-in” state. The capacity for simple communication can greatly improve their quality of life.

Under the direction of Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D., The Wadsworth Center has developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) device which may provide communication functions to individuals who have lost muscle control, including the ability to breathe, talk or even move their eyes. The device records brain waves from the scalp and then decodes them, allowing the user to communicate by making selections on a computer screen. The Wadsworth BCI system is a completely new technology and a major advance over conventional augmentative communication methods. The team at Wadsworth has refined the technology over the past 20 years.

Wadsworth researchers are now working with the staff of Helen Hayes Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitation Technology to transition the BCI from the laboratory to the home environment. In a pilot study, researchers identify individuals who may benefit from the BCI and educate them and their caregivers on its use. The BCI devices are installed in the user’s home. Through an internet link and periodic visits, researchers monitor and assess the extent and success of BCI usage and its impact on quality of life.

For additional information on BCI research at Helen Hayes Hospital contact Debra Zeitlin, MA, CCC/SLP at:

Rehabilitation Neurophysiology Research

The Wadsworth Center and Helen Hayes Hospital are conducting two Translational Neurological Research Projects. One of these is the operant conditioning approach that is based on more than 30 years of animal research by the Wolpaw group at the Wadsworth Center, and aims to improve movement functions in people with spinal cord injury (SCI), stroke, and multiple sclerosis (MS). We are testing two training methods: Reflex Training and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) training. Currently, both training studies target spasticity and foot drop, two of the most common gait problems in people with these conditions. Reflex Training focuses on alleviating abnormal reflexes associated with spasticity. It is hypothesized that learning to change a reflex response through training (i.e., operant conditioning) induces neural plasticity, as it has successfully in rodents and other non-human primates, and leads to lowering spasticity and improving walking. TMS training aims to improve functional connectivity between the brain and the spinal cord through non-invasive brain stimulation (i.e., TMS), specifically focusing on the ankle dorsiflexion to reduce foot drop. Recent studies indicate that the strengthened brain-spinal cord connectivity is a key mechanism of improved motor function.

The studies are geared to people with chronic gait problems due to incomplete SCI, stroke, and MS. Reflex Training sessions occur three times a week for 12 weeks. Each training session consists of three blocks of 75 reflex trials, during which the standing subject views a screen that shows the ongoing muscle activity and reflex size. During reflex training trials, the subject is instructed to make the reflex size low. TMS training sessions occur three times a week for 10-12 weeks. Similar to a reflex training session, a TMS training session also consists of three blocks of 75 trials. TMS is applied through a metal coil placed over the scalp, which briefly produces an electrical field in the brain and stimulates the brain cells underneath, resulting in activating the spinal cord neurons that produce ankle dorsiflexion.

The studies’ findings have thus far yielded positive results. Successful subjects with SCI, stroke, and MS experienced a decrease in spasticity and improvements in gait (e.g., faster walking speed, improved walking rhythm, less foot drop, etc.).

Recruiting Volunteers for Neurophysiology Research

Helen Hayes Hospital is recruiting volunteers to participate in rehabilitation neurophysiology research studies.

Participation in a study requires approximately three sessions per week for two to three months, followed by four to eight sessions over another two to three months. Each session will last approximately 90 minutes and participants will be paid $15 per session.

For additional information on neurophysiology or research studies and how to join these studies, contact John Whalen, RN at OR 845-786-4854. For information on Translational Neurological Research in general, contact John Whalen, RN at OR 845-786-4854.

Managing Conflicts of Interest in Research Policy

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