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BME Associate Professor Nitin Sharma and his collaborators have recently been awarded an NIH Trailblazer R21 Award for research on Data-driven Modeling and Ultrasound-based Control of Afferent Nerve Stimulation for Tremor Suppression. The Trailblazer R21 Award is an opportunity for Early Stage Investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences.  

The Trailblazer Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) employs an R21 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant mechanism, enhanced to provide $400,000 in direct costs over three years, allowing sufficient time and resources to pursue a new or emerging research program. Dr Sharma’s Trailblazer project proposes ultrasound-based control of afferent nerve stimulation for tremor suppression in people with Parkison, which affects over 11 million people in the US only. Individuals experiencing tremors in the hands and arms face difficulty performing activities of daily living.  Electrical stimulation that works by stimulating motor nerves of antagonistic muscles is a potential wearable option for tremor suppression when medication is ineffective, but prior to pursuit of effective yet invasive (and costly) brain surgery. However, there is a wide performance variability in existing stimulation-driven tremor suppression methods. Measurements of muscle tremors with ultrasound can help create a data-driven model of stimulation and help design individual-specific afferent stimulation parameters. However, ultrasound has never been used for tremor suppression control. Real-time algorithms and models that map ultrasound-derived muscle activity to oscillating limb displacement are yet unestablished. 

If successful, a data-driven model of stimulation will automate an individualized tremor suppression intervention. A future clinical translation of data-driven modeling, afferent stimulation technology, along with wearable ultrasound will improve the quality of life by assisting in suppressing prominent distal tremors. Congratulations to Dr Nitin Sharma and his research collaborators BME Professor Caterina Gallippi; Dr. Xiaoning Jiang, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NC State; Dr. Daniel Roque, Neurology at UNC; and Dr Tanya Garcia, Biostatistics at UNC! To learn more about the NIBIB Trailblazer Award visit their website here

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