Current Research Studies (Volunteers Needed)

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, please contact the research coordinator listed for that particular clinical trial or complete the participation form to the right. The participation form will be forwarded to the program coordinator and you will be contacted by the appropriate person.

Please fill out our SCI Research Intake Form to be considered for current and future research studies.

Conditioning Neural Circuits to Improve Upper Extremity Function [691]

Principal Investigator: Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description: This study is designed to examine arm and hand function after receiving fine motor training combined with stimulation to increase brain excitability.  The project will study two types of stimulation- transcranial direct current stimulation, a type of non-invasive brain stimulation, and peripheral nerve somatosensory stimulation, which is stimulation to the median nerve.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be 18-65 years of age
  • Have a traumatic, cervical (neurological level C1-C8) SCI that occurred either <6 months ago (acute/subacute) or >1 year (chronic) prior to the time of enrollment
  • Have self-reported limitations in arm and hand function in at least one upper limb
  • Have the ability to pick up objects with at least one hand without using assistive devices

This study is funded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (MRMC), Dept. of Defense.

Contact: Email Allison Ainsworth, MOT OTR/L or call 404-350-7783

Dose-response Effects of Whole Body Vibration on Spasticity and Walking in SCI [629]

Principal Investigator: Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description: Whole body vibration (WBV) appears to influence spasticity and walking function and is often used as part of rehabilitation.  There is much to be learned about the influence of different WBV dose parameters such as vibration frequency and duration.  This study will evaluate how spasticity and walking are affected by different doses of WBV.  This information will assist in identifying the optimal dose of WBV to decrease spasticity and improve walking function.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Have spinal cord injury of at least 6 months duration.
  • Be between the ages of 16-65 years old
  • Be able to stand for at least one minute using upper extremities for balance only
  • Be able to move one leg at least a small amount using whatever devices are most helpful for you
  • Have at least mild spasticity affecting the lower extremity muscles
  • Be able to transfer from sit to stand requiring no more than moderate assistance of one person.
  • Be participating in the STEP program or Beyond Therapy at Shepherd Center

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Contact:  Email Beth Sasso, PT, or call 404-350-7551.

SCIMS Site Specific 1: Enhancing Corticospinal Activation for Improved Walking Function [703]

Principal Investigator: Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description: For many people with spinal cord injury (SCI), the goal of walking is a high priority. There are many  approaches available to restore walking function after SCI; however, these approaches often involve extensive rehabilitation training and access to facilities, qualified staff, and advanced technology that make practicing walking at home difficult. For this reason, developing training approaches that could be easily performed in the home would be of great value. In addition, non-invasive brain stimulation has the potential to increase the effectiveness of communication between the brain and spinal cord. Combining motor skill training with brain stimulation may further enhance the restoration of function in persons with SCI. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine if moderate-intensity, motor skill training can improve walking-related outcomes among persons with SCI and to determine if the addition of non-invasive brain stimulation will result in greater improvements in function compared to training alone. 

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be 18-65 years of age
  • Have a chronic SCI (≥12 months post-injury) at or above the level of T10;
  • Have a motor-incomplete injury (ASIA Impairment Scale C or D);
  • Be able to stand (with the aid of an assistive device if needed) for at least 5 minutes;
  • Be able to advance each leg independently for at least 3 steps;
  • Be able to rise from sit to stand requiring no more than moderate assistance from one person;

This study is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

Contact: Email Nicholas H. Evans, MHS, CEP or call 404-350-7742

The Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) Program

Principal Investigator:  Edelle C. Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description:  The Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) Program is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). The Shepherd Center program is called the Southeastern Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SR-SCIMS) Program at Shepherd Center and consists of documenting the continuum of care, the performance of two, site-specific and three collaborative research projects.

This study is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

Contact: Email  Brandon Poe, MPA, or call 404-350-7681

Combined Influence of Transcutaneous Spinal Cord Stimulation and Locomotor Training on Spasticity and Walking Outcomes after Spinal Cord Injury [696]

Principal Investigator: Stephen Estes, PhD

Study Description: The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of combining non-invasive stimulation of the spinal cord (transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation) with locomotor training for reducing involuntary muscle activity (spasticity) and improving walking function. Participants can expect to undergo clinical assessments as well as electrical and biomechanical (motion capture) analysis of muscle activity for 4 weeks while participating in standard locomotor training with their physical therapist 3 days a week. The last two weeks of locomotor training will include the addition of spinal cord stimulation.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Have ability and willingness to consent and/or authorize use of protected health information
  • Be between 18-65 years of age
  • Be enrolled in Spinal Cord Injury Day Program at the Shepherd Center
  • Be eligible for locomotor training at the Shepherd Center
  • Be able to take a step, with or without an assistive device
  • Have a spinal cord injury, completed in-patient rehabilitation, and have been discharged to home
  • Have at least mild “spasticity” affecting leg muscles
  • You may participate if you use prescription medications, including baclofen for control of spasticity

This study is funded by Wings for Life Spinal Cord Injury Research Foundation, Inc.

Contact: Email  Stephen Estes, PhD or call 404-603-4967

Adaptation and validation of a quantitative measure of upper extremity spasticity for use in persons with tetraplegia [693]

Principal Investigator: Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description: Current assessments for upper limb spasticity in persons with SCI lack sensitivity making difficult to measure the effect of treatments for spasticity.  Consequently, a more rigorous method is needed for the evaluation of upper extremity spasticity in persons with tetraplegia.  Such a measure has been developed for use in persons with stroke.  The purpose of this study is to standardize the application of this measure of spasticity in individuals with tetraplegia.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be 18-65 years of age
  • Have a traumatic, cervical (neurological level C1-C8) SCI
  • Have self-reported spasticity in at least one arm or hand

Contact: Email  Sarah Callahan, MOT OTR/L or call 404-350-7628

Intermittent Hypoxia-Induced Recovery of Overground Walking in Persons with Subacute SCI [665]

Principal Investigator: Randy Trumbower, PT, PhD

Study Description:  The purpose of this study is to evaluate how daily (2 consecutive weeks) high altitude breathing treatments immediately followed by skilled walking practice may improve walking after a spinal cord injury.  Participants will complete 10 sessions of high altitude breathing treatments, which may be followed by 1 hour of walking practice with a physical therapist.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be 18 – 70 years old
  • Have sustained a C4 – T12, incomplete (AIS B – D) spinal cord injury 2-6 months ago
  • No longer be receiving inpatient rehabilitation (day/outpatient rehabilitation are allowed)

Contact: Email Michelle Tidwell, or call 404-367-1317. 

Determinants of Upper Extremity Functional Capabilities in Tetraplegia [721]

Site Principal Investigator:  Edelle C. Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description: Arm strength, functional capabilities, and self-care and fine motor activities will be evaluated to determine how changes in these measures relate to each other. Manual muscle tests and three questionnaires (the Capabilities of Upper Extremity Questionnaire (CUE-Q), and the modified Spinal Cord Injury Functional Index (SCI-FI) and Assistive Technology (SCI-FI/AT) short forms) will be used for these evaluations. Identifying a few key actions critical to performing tasks independently could help prioritize goals of activity-based exercise programs, and comparing task completion with and without assistive devices will help to separate the impact of adaptive equipment on performance of UE activities.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be a current inpatient
  • Have had a traumatic cervical SCI
  • Have at least minimal movement in your arm
  • Have injury level between C1 & C8
  • Be available for follow-up
  • Be at least 15 years of age

This study is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

Contact:  Email Cathy Furbish, PT or call 404-350-7591

Diet Composition and Cardiometabolic Risk Reduction in Adults with SCI (Protocol #F151001005; Sponsor NIH; In collaboration with UAB) [715]

Site Principal Investigator:  Edelle C. Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA

Study Description:  The purpose of this study is to determine if a low carbohydrate or a low fat diet is better for helping adults with a spinal cord injury: 1) stick to their diet, 2) improve their body composition, and 3) lower their cardiometabolic risk factors (such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke). Participation includes 2 visits to Lakeshore Foundation, in Birmingham AL, over six months to complete a series of assessments, including blood work, fitness measures and body measurements. If you enroll in the study, you will receive a diet and exercise plan, and you will work with a health coach for 6 months to follow your plan. You will also be given access to an on-line health coaching program called POWERS for 6 months. You will receive $50 for completing the initial assessments and another $50 when you finish the 6 month assessments.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Have a spinal cord injury
  • Have a BMI between 25-55 kg/m2
  • Be willing to try a new diet
  • Have access to Internet or a smart phone

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Contact: Email Ashley Sineath or call 205-403-5510

Enhancing Corticospinal Excitability to Improve Functional Recovery [723]

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Iddings, PhD

Study Description: Research indicates that increasing brain excitability might help improve hand function in people with spinal cord injury. Non-invasive brain stimulation increases brain excitability and has the potential to make it easier for the brain and nervous system to respond to arm and hand training.  The purpose of this study is to compare four different stimulation conditions for increasing brain excitability to determine which conditions are best for helping people with tetraplegia improve their ability to use their arms and hands.  To fully evaluate the value of brain stimulation on arm and hand function, we will also evaluate the effect of sham (fake) stimulation. Each participant will receive a single session of all five types of stimulation being tested.

To participate in this study, you must:

  • Be 18-65 years of age
  • Have a cervical (neurological level C1-C8) SCI occurring more than 6 months ago
  • Have any severity classification (ASIA/ISNCSCI A, B, C, D)
  • Have self-reported functional limitations in at least one upper limb
  • Have the ability to voluntarily move thumb or index finger (visible twitch) of both upper limbs
  • Have the ability and willingness to consent to participate in the study and authorize use of protected health information

This study is funded by a Spinal Cord Injury Research on the Translational Spectrum (SCIRTS) Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

Contact: Email Jennifer Iddings, PhD or call (404) 367-1239.