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UT Arlington bioengineer wins NIH grant to help guide treatment for children with cerebral palsy

News Release — 25 April 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Herb Booth, (817) 272-7075, hbooth@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - A UT Arlington bioengineer is working to give physicians vital information that could lead to better therapy for patients afflicted with cerebral palsy.

George Alexandrakis, an assistant professor in bioengineering at The University of Texas at Arlington, has won a three-year, $1.16 million National Institutes of Health grant that will use functional near-infrared brain imaging as a tool to help guide the treatment of children with cerebral palsy. Functional near-infrared brain imaging measures the neuronal activity from the brain’s surface.

“Our goal is to show what is happening in the brain so that doctors can tell whether certain types of therapy will work or won’t and that could lead to better treatment for these children,” Alexandrakis said.

George Alexandrakis

George Alexandrakis

The project began when Mauricio Delgado, director of neurology at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, approached UT Arlington with a question.

“I asked them if they could help me uncover what activation patterns emerge in a child’s brain as they are undergoing a certain therapy for cerebral palsy,” Dr. Delgado said. Alexandrakis told Delgado that his team could use functional brain imaging to measure parts of the brain that “light up” during therapy.

The work proposes to image how brain patterns change over the course of months while patients with cerebral palsy undergo a treatment process called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy. This treatment is taxing to the patients as it involves binding the good arm, forcing them to use the cerebral palsy-afflicted arm. The procedure is not always productive and can be costly, sometimes approaching $30,000 to perform on one cerebral palsy patient, researchers said. Therefore, there is much to be gained from identifying positive responders early into the treatment regime.

Years two and three of the NIH grant work will take place at Scottish Rite Hospital and will center on testing the brain imaging device on children with cerebral palsy in an attempt to identify the hallmark brain activation patterns before treatment, Alexandrakis said. He added that the patterns then could serve as predictors of positive outcomes and identify the patients who could benefit from this type of therapy.

“Teasing out some more of those factors on why patients do or don’t respond could lead to better treatment, too,” Alexandrakis said. “Ultimately, we want to eventually give children with cerebral palsy hope.”

UT Arlington has three functional near-infrared brain imaging machines. Hanli Liu, a UT Arlington bioengineering professor and cohort on Alexandrakis’ grant, has used the machines to develop non-invasive imaging for tumor therapy monitoring and prognosis.

The brain optical imaging device is more portable and is more resistant to patient motion than traditional magnetic resonance imaging machines – two advantages when working with children, Alexandrakis said.

Besides Liu, other members of the team include Mario Romero-Ortega, a UT Arlington associate professor of bioengineering who is an expert in human neurophysiology; Duncan MacFarlane, a UT Dallas electrical engineering professor; and Chester Wildey of Arlington-based MRRA Inc., who will provide technical support with the development of hardware and software needed for the new project.

The team will build a brush fiber system as an attachment to the brain optical imaging device that will deliver light between human hairs into the brain while simultaneously collecting the light being reflected from the brain’s surface. The procedure gives clearer images of brain function for researchers and physicians.

Alexandrakis’ team also will construct and test a brush-fiber functional near-infrared brain probe assembly. The device would span the entire head of a patient.

The brush fiber technology was established in collaboration with Fillia Makedon, chair of UT Arlington’s Computer Science and Engineering Department. It was supported by a $100,000 grant from TxMed, a medical technologies research consortium whose partners include UT Arlington, UT Dallas, Texas Instruments, Texas Health Resources, the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the Center for Innovation, a joint project of UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

MRRA also will provide a camera-based motion capture and analysis system to measure hand and arm motions during the imaging process. That system would be used to study how different motions make different regions of the brain light up.

Alexandrakis’ brain imaging and cerebral palsy work is representative of the research under way at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas.

Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.

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