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Hulse Spinal Cord Injury Lab Gears Up for Exciting New Projects

By Edelle Field-Fote, PT, Ph.D.
Co-Project Director, Shepherd Center SCIMS Program

With a clinical background in physical therapy, doctoral studies focused on an animal model of spinal cord injury (SCI) and 20 years as a rehabilitation researcher at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, I have often fielded calls from people inquiring about the best place for their loved ones with SCI to receive rehabilitation care.

Shepherd Center was always my first recommendation. It is very likely that Shepherd Center has the highest concentration of specialized SCI clinicians in the United States, perhaps in the world.

It was no surprise then, that when writing the book Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, I reached out to several colleagues at Shepherd Center asking for their input. These colleagues, in turn, urged me to consider the position of director of SCI research on two occasions. The opportunity to perform rehabilitation research in the heart of an excellent clinical center was always intriguing to me, but until this year, the timing was never right.

As of May 19, 2014, I began leading research in the Hulse Spinal Cord Injury Lab. We began a team-building process with the development of a vision and new mission statement to guide the lab with the help of key members of the SCI program team. I’m pleased to share our new vision and mission statements.

Vision: The Hulse Lab pioneers the development of rehabilitation interventions that optimize functional abilities of people impacted by spinal cord injury.
Mission: To facilitate restoration of movement and sensory function after SCI through innovative and ethical rehabilitation research that promotes mentorship, collaboration and clinical translation.

Of course, the work of the Hulse Lab relies so heavily on the important contribution of volunteer research subjects who give their time to advance our knowledge about the best interventions to improve function. When deciding on the best intervention, a key question usually focuses on the amount or quantity of the intervention. Even the most potent intervention will be ineffective if the dose is too low, and conversely, even water is toxic in extreme quantities.

In the past decade, when giving scientific presentations, I have often made the point that while drugs are subjected to years of testing by the pharmaceutical industry to identify optimal dosages, the same is not true of physical therapy (such as functional practice training, exercise, stimulation, etc). Physical therapy and rehabilitation are, in many cases, the best available approach to addressing impairments and activity limitations, but for the most part, these approaches lack industry backing. Thus, there is little funding available to address questions related to dose. But the tide may be shifting.

In the next few months, a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health will begin in the Hulse Lab. This study represents one of the first studies to assess the dose-response relationships in a physical therapy or rehabilitation intervention. In this case, the intervention is whole-body vibration therapy (WBV). This study builds on my prior published studies and studies by others suggesting that WBV therapy can influence spinal reflex circuitry in a way that decreases spasticity. In addition, we also have evidence that WBV therapy influences the spinal circuitry that contributes to walking function. The study will evaluate changes in spasticity, walking, strength and pain in people with SCI who receive various doses of WBV therapy.

Research volunteers are needed, and a small stipend is available for research participants. Subject enrollment will begin in mid-January of 2015. To be eligible, study participants must be at least one year past their injury and be able to stand for at least a minute and take one step with one leg. If you are interested in participating, complete our research intake form by clicking here.

We would be happy to share information about other studies that are going on in the lab, as well. I invite you to come by the lab and meet the lab team.

EDELLE FIELD-FOTE, PT, Ph.D., is the director of spinal cord injury research at Shepherd Center and the co-project director of the Spinal Cord Injury Model System at Shepherd Center. She joined the staff in May 2014 after serving for 20 years as the director of the Neuromotor Rehabilitation Research Laboratory at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Her research focuses on restoring motor function after spinal cord injury by making use of spinal pathways not damaged by injury. You may reach her at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.