The mission of the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center is to improve quality of life and increase longevity by identifying, intervening, and/or preventing the secondary medical consequences of individuals with a spinal cord injury.
The investigators in our Center strive to make available to our health care providers a greater awareness and understanding of medical complications associated with reduced activity and paralysis. Better recognition and treatment of these adverse secondary conditions result in improved quality of medical care and quality of life for Veterans and non-Veterans with spinal cord injury.
Who We Are
The investigators of the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center focus on identifying and defining the numerous and varied problems that occur to persons with a spinal cord injury. After partial or complete paralysis below the affected level of the spinal cord, the nervous system may not adequately communicate with organ systems throughout the body, which then fail to function properly. Over time, health problems resulting from paralysis and immobilization intensify the normal age-related deterioration of a variety of organ functions.
Using both clinical and basic science approaches, the investigators of the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center study and then intervene to address the multiple types of adverse impacts that spinal cord injury has on the body, working from the laboratory setting to patient care, as well as to recent incursions into the community with exoskeletal devices for walking.
The Center’s investigators employ the latest technologies, medications, and therapeutic methods to enhance our knowledge and to improve clinical care and to make it possible for those with spinal cord injury to live healthier and longer lives.
Some of the health issues addressed by the Center’s investigators include those related to:
- cardiovascular disease
- impaired bowel emptying (stool evacuation)
- esophageal dysfunction, an asthma-like condition (airway hyperreactivity)
- adverse changes in body composition (loss of muscle and gain of fat)
- perturbed muscle physiology and function
- skeletal muscle atrophy below the level of injury
- loss of neurological control of muscle and joint mobility
- metabolic disorders
- regulation and deficiencies of body-building (or anabolic) hormones
- alteration in cardiovascular and thermal autonomic control
- neurological control of movement
- implementation and the study of advances in technologies that improve mobility, health, and functional independence
Studies Performed by the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center:
Every organ system in the body has the potential to be affected by spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injury results in interruption of normal transmission of information from the central nervous system below the level of an injury, thereby affecting the brain’s ability to regulate body functions. This interruption of signals from the brain includes functions that are voluntary and under our conscious control and those that are automatic and beyond our conscious control. Depending on the severity of the trauma to the spinal cord, communication between areas above the injury, to those below may result in a broad range of outcomes from mild sensory and/or motor impairments to a complete severing of both motor and sensory function. This loss of communication results in multiple medical problems that are paralysis- and/or immobilization-related complications of spinal cord injury. When left untreated after the initial injury, these problems may worsen with advancing age, resulting in an increased risk for disease and discomfort.
With the numerous advances in medications, technology and therapies, healthcare innovations have the distinct possibility to dramatically improve medical care for persons with spinal cord injury. The Spinal Cord Damage Research Center is at the forefront of identifying and using novel and sophisticated technologies and pharmacotherapeutics to improve our understanding of the problems that persons with spinal cord injury face on a daily basis. The Center’s preclinical investigators are developing novel, cutting-edge technologies and approaches to prevent or reverse the adverse effects of spinal cord injury on the musculoskeletal system. With continuous support from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Research & Development and the James J Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as support from other government, public and private organizations and foundations, the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center has been successful in fulfilling our ongoing mission to improve the health and lives of Veterans and non-Veterans with spinal cord injury.
Investigators in our Center have identified and will continue to tackle many problems related to:
- the cardiovascular system
- respiratory tract
- autonomic nervous system
- metabolism and body composition
- the musculoskeletal system
- endocrine system
- the neurological motor and reflex control
The care and attention devoted to addressing not only the physical, but also the emotional and social challenges of living with a spinal cord injury would not have been possible without the vision of Drs. Bauman and Spungen, as well as the collective effort of the other investigators working in the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center. As a result of the work accomplished by our Center, in collaboration with research facilities throughout the country, persons with spinal cord injury are living longer and healthier lives.
National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury-
The Spinal Cord Damage Research Center has been, in part, supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Research & Development. This research unit is nationally recognized for integrating preclinical and clinical research to advance general knowledge care for all persons with spinal cord injury or damage.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald (Left), with William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D., Director and Associate Director of VA’s Rehabilitation Research & Development National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury who were awarded the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Science and Environment Medal, also known as the “Sammies.”
Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in Science and Environment
During the past 25 years, increasing attention has been brought to the research and treatment of the medical complications that individuals with a spinal cord injury have, which had been largely overlooked by health professionals. Drs. Bauman and Spungen have been leading the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center in Bronx, New York, that focuses on the medical and rehabilitation problems that occur after a person suffers a spinal cord injury. Their goals are to increase patients’ quality and longevity of life.
The research initiative has been staunchly supported by the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Service’s National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury, the Department of Defense, and other state government and non-government organizations and foundations. On September 22, 2014, their achievements in improving the health and wellbeing of those with spinal cord injury were recognized at the national level with these investigators being awarded the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in Science and the Environment.
Their careers have been dedicated to assisting those who suffer from spinal cord injury. Drs. Bauman and Spungen actively continue to identify additional solutions to improve quality of life and extend the life expectancy for Veterans and non-Veterans with spinal cord injury or damage. Performing the highest quality scientific investigation, they, along with all of the other incredibly creative, hardworking investigators in the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center, are steadfastly continuing their stated mission.
List of Achievements
Breakthroughs in scientific research provide new and improved treatments for injuries and diseases that shape and advance contemporary medical practice. By performing cutting edge research with state-of-the-art technologies in basic and clinical science, the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center is at the forefront of contemporary research in spinal cord injury and has contributed to several breakthroughs that improve care for and quality of life of persons with spinal cord injury.
A few of the achievements are mentioned.
The Center’s investigators have developed a dual medication combination to induce bowel evacuation (stool emptying); this drug combination has been accepted as the treatment of choice for severe constipation in the general population.
Investigators have pioneered the work with powered exoskeletons; in addition to leading the field with regard to training and mobility considerations using exoskeletons, investigators have been the first to observe numerous general health benefits from using this form of robotic ambulation.
Studies were performed in monozyotic twins (“identical” twins), one of whom had a spinal cord injury; these studies provided powerful insights into the changes in body composition (muscle, fat, and bone), fitness, hormonal disorders, and psychological factors that occur in persons with chronic spinal cord injury; this information could not have been obtained without using an identical twin model.
About the Leadership
Dr. William A. Bauman
“Every day, when I hear the hustle-bustle of scientific investigation in the Center, it’s a terrific feeling. Our Center is an entity that Dr. Spungen and I built from the ground up, and when we see the unit charging ahead in so many areas of clinical investigation relevant to improving the health and well-being of Americans with disability, it is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Working with our fellow investigators, we have demonstrated the ability to be highly productive on a daily basis. To work with bright, dedicated individuals who continue to contribute to the field of Spinal Cord Medicine is an honor. Dr. Spungen and I are incredibly fortunate to be at the helm of a busy, dynamic and effective research center.”
In 1990, Dr. Bauman established the Spinal Cord Damage Research Center to better understand and more effectively prevent or treat the consequences to the body from spinal cord injury, such as those of bone deterioration below the level of injury depression of “body-building” hormones, and metabolic disorders of sugar and cholesterol. His future objectives for the Center are to continue to improve the lives and wellbeing of those with spinal cord injury, which for those people is a catastrophic, life-altering event.
Dr. Ann M. Spungen
Over the past 25 years, Dr. Spungen has continued to be as steadfast investigator who has been closely involved in the multiple, incredibly diverse initiatives of the Center, including defining an asthma-like condition in those with higher cord lesions, osteoporosis of immobilization, and soft tissue body composition changes. She has always been readily available to assist junior investigators with experimental design and statistical approaches. Her relatively recent work with exoskeleton-assisted walking has been widely recognized scientifically and in the national media.
James J. Peters (Executive Director of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association)
Ann Spungen, EDd, Associate Director of SCDRC, Rosalyn S. Yalow, PhD, Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology (1977), Senior Scientist, Department of Veterans Affairs, Professor of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, William Bauman, MD, Director of SCDRC, Vivian Beyda,DrPH, Associate Executive Director United Spinal Association