Rehabilitation Researchers Awarded Ohio Third Frontier Research Spinal Cord Injury Grants

November 2023 

The Ohio Third Frontier Research Incentive – Spinal Cord Injury Program is a competitive grant award program administered by the Ohio Department of Higher Education to advance spinal cord injury (SCI) research at institutions of higher education.

Anne Bryden, PhDMegan Moynahan, MS, Bioscientific Staff in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the MetroHealth Center for Rehabilitation Research (MCRR), was awarded a 2-year, $498,351 grant entitled “KeyGrip: Handgrasp made simple.” 

Ms. Moynahan’s research will develop a simple system to restore hand function to people with cervical SCI (Figure 1). The system is designed based on interviews with over 4 dozen experts, including people with SCI, surgeons, therapists, physiatrists, engineers and business leaders.

The funding will allow the team to develop two novel electrode designs that will interface with a commercially available stimulator to achieve the functional requirements for a specific type of hand grasp called key grip (Figure 2). Recruitment for the clinical trial will begin in Spring, 2024 and will continue through 2025. The objective is to restore hand function to 12 people with SCI.

Ms. Moynahan is Executive Director of the Institute for Functional Restoration at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). Dr. Bryden is Clinical Associate Professor of PM&R at CWRU. 

Megan Moynahan, MSAnne Bryden, PhD, staff scientist in the Department of PM&R and MCRR, was awarded a 2-yr, $249,893 grant entitled “I-SSTIM: Implementing upper extremity lower motor neuron assessment in cervical spinal cord injury.”

Dr. Bryden’s research will focus on assessing the integrity of the lower motor neuron (LMN), the nerves that emerge from the spinal cord to supply or innervate muscles (Figure 3). The assessment of LMN is not conducted in clinical practice even though it provides critical information about intervention options for arm and hand function in people with SCI. The project will develop strategies and technology for implementing this important assessment in the inpatient and outpatient SCI rehabilitation settings.

The overall objective of the project is to ensure that individuals with SCI affecting arm function receive this assessment and learn about opportunities for specialized therapies or surgeries to reduce the effects of their paralysis. 


Figure 1. Illustration of proposed KeyGrip System

Figure 2. Key grip hand grasp

Figure 3. Illustration of lower motor neuron emanating from the spinal cord and innervating muscle 


Illustration of proposed KeyGrip System


Doctors Cunningham and Knutson Awarded $3.4 million NIH Grant to Study Brain Stimulation and Electrical Stimulation of Paralyzed Muscles For Upper Limb Recovery After Stroke

May 2023 

David Cunningham, PhD and Jayme Knutson, PhD, Staff Scientists in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the MetroHealth Center for Rehabilitation Research, were awarded a 5-year $3.4 million NIH grant entitled “tDCS during contralaterally controlled FES for upper extremity hemiplegia.”

The proposed project investigates a strategy to incorporate noninvasive brain stimulation called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with an electrical stimulation technique called contralaterally controlled functional electrical stimulation (CCFES) in order to improve post-stroke upper-limb motor recovery. Both tDCS and CCFES have been shown to improve arm recovery after stroke. The primary objective of this clinical trial is to determine if the combination of tDCS and CCFES is superior to CCFES alone. The study also aims to investigate mechanisms underlying changes in brain physiology and recovery as a result of the therapy.

Dr. Cunningham, Assistant Professor of PM&R at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, is the contact Principal Investigator (PI) for the grant. This is Dr. Cunningham’s first NIH R01 grant, which officially transitions him to the “Independent Investigator” status, an important milestone for a scientist. During peer-review, this grant received a perfect 10 impact score (range 10 – 90) and ranked in the top 1 percentile.

Dr. Knutson, Professor of PM&R, is a multi-PI on the grant. Co-investigators include Richard Wilson, MD, Professor of PM&R, and Doug Gunzler, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Population and Quantitative Health Sciences.