College of Staten Island
 The City University of New York
Dr. Maria Knikou with one of her students at the College of Staten Island.

Research Highlights

Spinal Reflexes and Sensorimotor Integration in Humans
Dr. Maria Knikou, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy

Dr. Knikou has been at the College of Staten Island since 2003 and she teaches Doctoral courses in Physical Therapy, which include PHT 605 Neuromotor Facilitation Techniques for neurologically impaired patients, and research-related courses such as PHT 650, 631, and 606.

She and her colleagues are studying sensorimotor control in people with spinal cord injuries with the hope of gaining insight into how motor control is regained following an injury to the nervous system. Dr. Knikou studies spinal reflexes and sensorimotor integration in humans without the use of invasive tools, such as scalpels or needles. Instead, she conducts her studies through non-invasive, well-established neurophysiological and electrophysiological techniques. Dr. Knikou hopes that her research will help in developing rehabilitation protocols that will allow patients to reach the most optimal rehabilitation level, thereby improving their quality of life.

Dr. Knikou was awarded a two-year $100,000 research grant in August 2003 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to study the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying spasms in Spinal Cord-Injured (SCI) patients. The results from this research project will help us to understand some neuronal properties of spasms occurring in people with spinal cord injuries. The study was conducted at the Sensory Motor Performance Program of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in collaboration with Professor William Zev Rymer.

In addition, Dr. Knikou has been awarded a NYS Spinal Cord Research Grant earlier this year. This two-year grant will focus on the effect of sensory inputs on walking. Dr. Knikou is the principal investigator and will lead the team in the research project, which is to be conducted at the University of Louisville in Kentucky in collaboration with Dr. Susan J. Harkema.

The patients in this study will be compensated volunteers with spinal cord lesions, who are not restricted to wheelchairs, but have sensory motor incomplete lesions of the spinal cord, which prevent them from walking in a normal physiological pattern. Dr. Knikou predicts that this study will prove that sensory inputs play a major role in walking. After this study is completed, Dr. Knikou hopes to conduct a randomized clinical trial incorporating specific training protocols based on her findings which could eventually help to develop sensory models for paraplegic patients.

The NYS Spinal Cord Research grant is funded by the fines collected from speeding tickets.