Kessler Foundation scientists receive $500,000 in grants to address early intervention after spinal cord injury

New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research funds three exploratory research pilots to assess rehabilitation using transcutaneous spinal stimulation and initiating a cognitive training program after SCI.

Three headshot photographs of research scientists
Kessler scientists (from left) Fan Zhang, PhD; Erica Weber, PhD; and
Einat Engel-Haber, MD, received grants from New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord
Research for pilot studies addressing early interventions after SCI.

East Hanover, NJ – March 30, 2023. Three Kessler Foundation scientists have received grants totaling $500,000 from the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research to advance exploratory pilot studies in early intervention after spinal cord injury. Two studies will focus on areas of rehabilitation using spinal cord transcutaneous stimulation and another will test the impact of a BrainHQ cognitive training program in improving processing speed abilities shortly after SCI.

Fan Zhang, PhD, research scientist in the Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation, received a $199,864 grant to study, “Establishing the Feasibility, Safety, and Efficacy of Spinal Cord Transcutaneous Stimulation with Activity-based Training for Upper Extremity Function Recovery in Individuals with Acute to Subacute Tetraplegia.”

Thus far, very few studies have addressed the safety, feasibility, and efficacy of spinal cord transcutaneous stimulation (scTS). “We hypothesize that implementing scTS combined with activity-based training (ABT) as a daily therapy will be safe, feasible and could establish substantial evidence for integrating scTS+ABT into inpatient rehabilitation practice,” explained Dr. Zhang. “Doing so would significantly accelerate functional and neurological recovery in current clinical care,” he said, adding, “By evaluating the pre and post changes of cortical and spinal excitability, we will explore the potential neurophysiological mechanism underlying the combined intervention.”

Einat Engel-Haber, MD, postdoctoral fellow in the Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation and the Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research received a $100,000 grant to examine the use of scTS in treating orthostatic hypotension (a significant drop in blood pressure when moving from supine to an upright position) in individuals up to 30 days after a new SCI. Dr. Engel-Haber’s study, “Neuromodulation of Blood Pressure using Transcutaneous Spinal Stimulation in Individuals with a Sub-Acute Spinal Cord Injury,” is an innovative crossover randomized controlled trial (RCT).

“Orthostatic hypotension is more frequent and severe in the earlier phases after SCI and often interferes with full participation in therapy sessions during inpatient rehabilitation,” said Dr. Engel-Haber. “This is the first study to apply spinal cord stimulation (epidural or transcutaneous) to address orthostatic hypotension during sub-acute settings following SCI. It is an important step in integrating scTS into the early recovery phase to improve autonomic cardiovascular function,” she explained. “This restorative rehabilitation technique has the potential to improve both the physical well-being and the functioning of individuals with SCI during inpatient rehabilitation as well as after discharge.”

Erica Weber, PhD, research scientist in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research, will apply her $198,988 grant to assess “Early Intervention for Cognitive Processing Speed Deficits in Acute SCI: A Pilot Study.” Decades of research have focused on the physical limitations associated with SCI as well as therapies for addressing these physical problems. However, it is becoming more widely acknowledged that many individuals with SCI experience significant cognitive difficulties.

“Today, cognitive assessment or rehabilitation is not part of the standard of care for individuals after SCI because of the relative lack of research in this area,” said Dr. Weber. “This pilot seeks to test whether a cognitive training program developed by BrainHQ can improve processing speed abilities in individuals shortly after they experience SCI,” she added. ”With improved access to high-quality cognitive treatment, individuals with SCI will be able to better prevent and address the impact of cognitive problems on their daily lives and therefore experience greater quality of life and holistic well-being,” she asserted.

Funding: New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research – CSCR23ERG011, cognitive processing; CSCR23FEL002, neuromodulation of blood pressure; CSCR23ERG001, upper extremity function.

About the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research
The Commission's mission is to ensure that the people of New Jersey receive the utmost attention and benefit in our nation's fight against spinal cord injury and disease through its promotion of research into the treatment and cure. The Commission was created to encourage and promote significant, original research projects in New Jersey through the funding of approved research projects at qualifying research institutions in the State. For more information visit

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. We help people regain independence to lead full and productive lives.


For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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