Researcher awarded $1.02 million grant for spinal cord injury research

May 22, 2014 College News - The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) has received a four-year, $1.02 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Division for spinal cord injury research.

Shekar Kurpad, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at MCW, is the principal investigator for the grant.

In this project, Dr. Kurpad and his research team will investigate the use of diffusion MRI imaging as a method to evaluate future function in patients with a spinal cord injury.

Diffusion MRI imaging uses magnetic resonance—MRI—to measure the magnitude and direction of diffusion of water molecules in the tissue.

Researchers at MCW have been working to refine this technique, initially developed for use in brain imaging, for spinal cord imaging to better evaluate the injury and improve prognostication of recovery.  The research group is also working to develop diffusion imaging to improve evaluation and treatment of other types of diseases affecting the spinal cord. This grant represents the renewal of a previous $450,000 exploratory grant to explore the viability of the technique and will validate new imaging based tools that would help physicians better and more accurately predict the return of neurological function in patients with spinal cord injury.

The research group led by Dr. Kurpad hopes to develop biomarkers for spinal cord injury and disease with diffusion imaging technologies much like obtaining PSA levels for patients with prostate cancer or gene screening for patients with breast cancer.

Collaborators on the team include Matthew Budde, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at MCW; and Brian Schmit, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering at Marquette University.

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