The National Institutes of Health awarded an $800,000 three-year research grant to Victor Pikov, Ph.D., of Huntington Medical Research Institutes’ Neural Engineering Department. Dr. Pikov is studying the problem of stroke-related incontinence. His project, “Functional Microstimulation of the Lumbosacral Spinal Cord,” explores using electrical stimulation to activate neurons in the spinal cord to restore bladder control following stroke.
Pikov proposes using low-frequency electrical stimulation to create a stroke-like incontinence. The “virtual” stroke will inhibit the ability of lumbosacral spinal cord nerves to control the bladder. “Electrical stimulation in the spinal cord to restore voiding is a new area of research,” says Dr. Pikov. “Only two other labs in the world are doing what we do at HMRI, but we have the advantage. We’re using arrays of electrodes, rather than individual electrodes.”
For the past 30 years, HMRI’s Neural Engineering program has been at the forefront of neural prosthesis research to produce safe, effective microstimulation to control the nervous system. In this case the implant, when activated, will produce symptoms of incontinence by applying repetitive electrical stimulation directly to the individual bladder neurons of the spinal cord. Pikov’s simulation of incontinence is repeatable and reversible, and done without lesions or injury. The hoped-for result would be the development of an implantable array of electrodes controlling bladder function without any further need for invasive surgery or drug treatment.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and is the main cause of long-term disability among adults. Many people develop bladder dysfunction soon after suffering a stroke. A likely explanation is that a stroke reduces the brain’s ability to inhibit the activity of spinal cord nerves involved in bladder contraction, resulting in incontinence. Currently, routine management of bladder dysfunction after stroke includes catheterization and drug treatment. Both have a significant risk of side effects such as urinary tract infections and urinary retention.
Victor Pikov, Ph.D. was awarded the HMRI-Caltech Boswell Fellowship in 2000. The Boswell Fellowship, endowed by the James G. Boswell Foundation, supports postdoctoral scientists in joint research at Caltech and HMRI. He brings a background in neuroanatomy, immunohistochemisty and bladder physiology to the Neural Engineering laboratory.
Born in Ukraine, he studied physiology at Kiev State University, received a B.A. cum laude in Biopsychology at Vassar College. He received his Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Georgetown University. Other members of the Neural Engineering team contributing to these studies include program director Douglas McCreery, Ph.D., Xindong Liu, Ph.D., and Leo Bullara. Their efforts have the potential to substantially improve the future quality of life for stroke patients.