September, 2016

The FireFly is a wireless stimulator about twice the size of a pencil eraser. It is implanted on the vagus nerve in the neck and can be controlled by a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas has awarded the Texas Biomedical Device Center (TxBDC) at UT Dallas a gift that could result in funding of up to $5 million to develop and test biomedical technology aimed towards treating patients with spinal cord injury.

This project will explore targeted plasticity therapy (TPT) using vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to cause the release of neurotransmitters critical for learning and memory. TPT releases these neurotransmitters at the same time that the neural circuits associated with recovery are active. The precisely timed release of the neurotransmitters specifically strengthens the active neural circuits, promoting recovery. Simply put, the vagus nerve is stimulated when a patient successfully performs an attempted activity during rehabilitative therapy, thus “re-training” the brain.

Spinal cord injury occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord that blocks communication between the brain and the body. TxBDC researchers have demonstrated that TPT is capable of targeting and strengthening the neural circuits responsible for recovery. They have repeatedly shown that TPT can enhance recovery of motor and sensory deficits resulting from severe neurological injury in both animal models and patients.

“We stand at the cusp of revolution in the treatment of neurological injury and disease,” said Dr. Robert Rennaker, director of TxBDC and department head for bioengineering. “TPT has the potential to not only recover motor and sensory function, but could be used to treat learning disabilities and memory loss associated with aging.”

This critical investment will get TxBDC closer to their goal of reducing the cost to deliver TPT to those suffering from neurological disorders.

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