Fox receives funding to improve breathing and walking function

Emily Fox, RSD faculty and Brooks-PHHP collaboration member, headshot photoThe Department of Defense recently awarded Emily Fox, D.P.T., Ph.D., N.C.S., RSD faculty member and a clinical research scientist at Brooks Rehabilitation, a $2.4 million Clinical Trial award to study the effects of Acute Intermittent Hypoxia (AIH) and respiratory strength training on breathing function in people with chronic spinal cord injury. Fox and Gordon Mitchell, Ph.D., a UF preeminence professor of neuroscience, are co-principal investigators on this four-year project, which is expected to begin later this year.

Their goal is to use AIH to strengthen neural pathways, thus increasing the effects of respiratory strength training in individuals with respiratory impairment due to spinal cord injury. In addition to Fox and Gordon, other project leaders include Daniel Martin, P.T., Ph.D., FACSM; David Fuller, Ph.D., Babette Brumback, Ph.D., and several members of the Brooks Clinical Research Center play a central role in this project as well. Additionally, Geneva Tonuzi, M.D., Brooks Spinal Cord Injury Program Medical Director is a co-Investigator on this study.

“Impaired breathing function is a leading cause of illness and death after spinal cord injury. Acute intermittent hypoxia, brief periods of about one minute of breathing low oxygen, strengthens neural pathways and may improve the effectiveness of rehabilitation approaches such as respiratory strength training. We hope that the use of intermittent hypoxia will lead to improved breathing function and health after spinal cord injury.”

Fox is also collaborating with Dave Clark, Sc.D., a research assistant professor in the UF Institute of Aging and the VA Brain Rehabilitation Research Center, and they have received funding for three pilot projects with a combined funding of roughly $300,000. They aim to test the use of non-invasive stimulation to improve neural activation in the spinal cord and improve walking rehabilitation and mobility outcomes. Fox and Clark will test the use of stimulation in people with spinal cord injury and also, in a separate study, in older adults with mobility impairments. Their study of people with spinal cord injury is in collaboration with Brooks Rehabilitation.

“Both aging and trauma can cause damage to the spinal cord and lead to impairments in walking function. Our goal is to use non-invasive electrical stimulation in combination with walking rehabilitation to improve neural activation in the spinal cord. Our goal is to test this approach and determine if this combined strategy can improve rehabilitation and mobility outcomes.”