UAMS Enlists Arkansas Company to Build, Market New Bicycle Exercise Trainer for Spine Injury Patients

By todd


LITTLE ROCK – The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has signed a licensing agreement with a Siloam Springs company to manufacture the Motorized Bicycle Exercise Trainer developed by UAMS researchers that counters common side effects of spinal cord injuries.


Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology and developmental sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience at UAMS, led a team that invented the trainer as a way to combat muscle atrophy along with the uncontrolled muscle contractions and spasms suffered by those with spinal cord injuries.


A UAMS case study showed that regular use of the trainer in therapy could normalize reflexes and may rebuild muscle mass.


Ozark Systems Manufacturing, LLC, soon will begin building the trainer, which allows the patient to exercise leg muscles while seated in a wheelchair. Following final testing of the device, the company plans to begin marketing the trainer within the next two years.


“The Motorized Bicycle Exercise Trainer is part of our commitment to finding intensive therapies that allow these patients to regain as much function as possible in as short a time as possible,” Garcia-Rill said. “We’re also pleased that these devices will be manufactured right here in Arkansas, further demonstrating the economic impact that medical research can have on the state.”


In addition to those with spinal cord injuries, Garcia-Rill said he hopes to extend the benefits of the trainer to patients with exaggerated reflexes or muscle spasms as a result of stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.


“While this is an exciting development for our company, it is also a project we feel really good about being involved in because we know this device will help people,” said William Reams, president of Ozark Systems Manufacturing.


Spinal cord injuries affect thousands of Arkansans, with about 100 new cases per year, mainly the result of motor vehicle crashes. Almost half of spinal cord injuries cause complete loss of function in the legs.


A majority of spinal cord injury patients develop the unwanted muscle contractions or exaggerated reflexes as well as the degeneration of muscles. Most of those patients begin experiencing repetitive and severe muscle spasms.


Medication has been used to reduce muscle spasms in patients but a common side effect has been sleepiness and an inability to concentrate. This often prevents these patients from working.


Garcia-Rill, who has led spinal cord injury research at UAMS since 1981, previously helped develop a device that would stimulate the spinal cord below the injury to induce walking movements in the legs. Clinical tests showed this method effective in producing movements in patients years after an injury.


However, before these patients can walk, they must have some muscle mass and not suffer from the reflex problems or spasms that can affect balance. The motorized trainer was developed as part of Garcia-Rill’s continuing research in collaboration with Thomas Kiser, M.D., an associate professor of rehabilitation medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Robert D. Skinner, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology and developmental sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Nancy B. Reese, Ph.D., PT, chair of the physical therapy program at the University of Central Arkansas.


In a clinical test of the trainer, a patient used the trainer an hour a day, five days a week. After eight to 10 weeks, reflexes began to normalize and remained normal. After 13 weeks, use of the trainer was stopped and within two or three weeks, the patient’s reflexes had again become hyperactive.


Current and future research, funded in part by a $7.5 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health, is intended to determine the minimum level of trainer therapy necessary to eliminate the reflex problems and spasms. Kiser and Reese also are working to determine if use of the trainer soon after the injury can prevent the reflex problems. This research is being conducted at the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neuroscience Institute at UAMS, in collaboration with its institute’s director, T. Glen Pait, M.D, an associate professor of neurosurgery and orthopaedic surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has more than 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.1 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.