Researchers test noninvasive brain stimulation for motor recovery after spinal cord injury

With funding from the Department of Defense, research facilities in Ohio and New Jersey will conduct a multi-site study of transcranial stimulation for recovery of upper limb function in individuals with chronic spinal cord injury

East Hanover, NJ. August 26, 2019. Kessler Foundation is one of three sites participating in a study of noninvasive brain stimulation to improve upper limb function funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) titled, “Improving Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Interventions by Retraining the Brain.” Ela Plow, PhD, is principal investigator for the Cleveland Clinic; Svetlana Pundik, PhD, is principal investigator for the Louis B. Stokes VA Cleveland Medical Center; and Gail Forrest, PhD, is principal investigator for the Foundation, which received a sub award of $778,000. Dr. Forrest is director of the new Center for Spinal Stimulation at Kessler Foundation.

The randomized, double-blinded multi-site study will test the safety, feasibility and efficacy of pairing transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with exercise therapies to improve upper limb function among individuals with cervical incomplete spinal cord injury.

Dr. Gail Forest is director of the Center for Spinal Stimulation at Kessler Foundation

For this study, researchers plan to recruit 44 individuals with chronic spinal cord injury and upper limb impairments. Participants will receive 15 2-hour sessions (5 days/week for 3 weeks) of upper limb training to their weaker limb, combined with either active or sham tDCS. During the 2-hour sessions, participants will practice task-oriented exercises. Researchers will collect neurophysiological data and measure motor function at baseline, at four treatment visits, and at 3-month follow-up. They will use a number of measures, including the Upper Extremity Motor Score, GRASSP, Modified Ashworth Scale, and the Spinal Cord Independence Measure.

“Noninvasive brain stimulation is a promising approach to improving upper limb function in individuals with disabilities caused by spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Forrest. “This study is an opportunity to learn more about how the brain influences upper extremity recovery, and the potential to channel that control to aid recovery after spinal cord injury. We will be looking at the effects of this protocol of stimulation and exercise on strength and dexterity,” she noted, “and whether that can translate into greater independence and better quality of life for individuals with spinal cord injury.”


Funding: Department of Defense CDMRP (W81XWH-18-10530-1112-sub)


About Kessler Foundation:

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes–including employment — for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

For more information on Kessler Foundation’s research, visit

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