Research from JAMA Neurology touts the use of spinal cord epidural stimulation (scES) as a way to help maintain blood pressure and other cardiovascular functions among patients with spinal cord injury.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville’s Kentucky Spinal Cord injury Research Center (KSCIRC), describes the improvements the four participants in the study experienced in blood pressure and heart rate regulation during and after scES.

All four participants had chronic, complete cervical spinal cord injury, persistent low resting blood pressure, and blood pressure decrease when sitting up prior to receiving scES.

“From a quality of life perspective, orthostatic hypotension, or low blood pressure when sitting up, is truly life limiting,” says Glenn A. Hirsch, MD, a cardiologist with the UofL School of Medicine and co-author of the study, in a media release from the University of Louisville.

Spinal cord epidural stimulation uses an implanted electrode array to deliver electrical signals to the lumbar spine. For this study, research participants received stimulation using specific configurations selected to target cardiovascular function, monitoring blood pressure and cardiovascular function throughout, for an average of 89 daily, 2-hour sessions.

“What was most surprising was that only having it on for a few hours a day, we were noticing participants having normal blood pressure through longer periods of each day,” Hirsch states. “We are noticing it now across the research participants who had that problem, that there is a prolonged stabilizing effect even after the stimulator is turned off.”

Research at UofL using scES, led by Susan Harkema, PhD, associate director of KSCIRC and professor of neurosurgery at UofL, began with the goal of restoring motor function. However, researchers and participants soon noticed stimulation led to improvements in cardiovascular and autonomic systems as well, the release explains.

“In our motor system studies, we observed that we could actually regulate blood pressure without activating the motor system. That launched us into another area of research,” Harkema said. “Many people don’t realize that walking in many cases is not really the aspect that makes their daily lives most difficult because they have cardiovascular dysfunction and problems with respiratory, bowel, bladder, and sexual function. All of those things are disrupted so every day is incredibly difficult for people with spinal cord injury.”

In ongoing research to explore further the life-enhancing effects of epidural stimulation, the UofL researchers are conducting a 6-year study with 36 participants with chronic, complete spinal cord injuries.

[Source(s): University of Louisville, Science Daily]