Health Professions

Reeve Foundation awards impact grant to PT professor for her spinal cord injury rehabilitation research

Assistant Professor Selina Morgan

 

By Kate Hunger

Assistant Professor Selina Morgan, PT, DPT, NCS,  has received an impact grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation that will help support her research and rehabilitation work with patients with spinal cord injury.

The grant supports Morgan’s project, Increasing Access: Locomotor Training After Paralysis, which seeks to fund the purchase of a PowerStep, a bodyweight-supported smart treadmill system used in locomotor training for patients with complete or incomplete paralysis. The PowerStep is a highly sophisticated, smart treadmill that costs $180,000, said Morgan, who also is assistant director of clinical education for the Department of Physical Therapy and is board certified in neurologic physical therapy.

There are no facilities in the San Antonio area with the PowerStep, creating a significant gap in care, Morgan said.

“Access to the PowerStep will allow patients and their families to examine their potential to activate the network of neurons still present below their injury site,” Morgan said. “It will allow their outcomes to be part of international data collection that will help guide rehabilitative treatment in patients with spinal cord injury or disease of all ages.”

In addition to providing the grant support, the foundation will list UT Health San Antonio in its National Paralysis Resource Center.

“This means people in our area with paralysis from any injury or disease will know we are a center for rehabilitation and research,” Morgan said.

Morgan runs a pro bono clinic for adults and children, with support from physical therapy doctoral students. Her research is focused on motor control recovery in patients with stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and degenerative disease. Morgan has been a member of the Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network’s pediatric network since 2021.

The approach taken by the NeuroRecovery Network is designed to stimulate the spinal cord to learn in new ways by providing standardized, activity-based rehabilitation therapy.

“The NeuroRecovery Network is designed to provide standardized activity-based locomotor training that has been successful in enabling voluntary muscle activation regardless of the severity of the spinal cord injury,” Morgan said.

Without this training, patients who are capable of walking again would not know of their capability, and patients who do not regain the ability to walk demonstrate other physical gains such as sitting balance, improved control of autonomic function and improved fitness levels, Morgan said.

“This is a very structured way to activate the central nervous system toward neuroplastic change, which means the spinal cord can learn in a task-specific way,” she said.

Even though significant gains have been made in spinal cord injury research and patient outcomes, Morgan recognizes that there are limitations. Still, she said, it’s important to attempt rehabilitation through evidence-based therapies that have proven effective.

“There are a lot of people who are not going to get up and walk, but we are not going to know who they are until we try it,” Morgan said. “People living with spinal cord injury deserve to try.”

How you can help

Morgan continues to seek funding for the PowerStep. If you are interested supporting this project, please visit our donation page, select “I would like my gift to support” and type “SCI Research” in the donation field. If you have questions about this support opportunity, please email Lindsay Helsel, director of corporate and foundation relations. To learn more about other opportunities to support the School of Health Professions, please contact Anna Chowdhury, director of development for the School of Health Professions.

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