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U2FP's Blog > Keeping you current on the movement to cure paralysis
Jan 31, 2024

Ohio SCI Research Funding Awarded

Jake Beckstrom

U2FP’s Ohio Cure Advocacy Network (CAN) recently helped award nearly $3 million in grants to seven projects focused on spinal cord injury research.

Back in 2019, Ohio SCI community members Ian Burkhart, Allie Leatherman, Peter Nowell, Jeni Belt, Donna Sullivan, Jeremy Bigelow and David Casares came together with U2FP and successfully passed this $1.5M per fiscal year legislation. As with all U2FP CAN legislation, the law funds functional recovery research, chosen by a review board made up of scientists and those with lived-experience.


OH CAN advocates celebrate after passage of the Ohio Research Grant bill in 2019. Left to right: David Casares, Sen. Kunze, Jeni Belt, Donna Sullivan, Peter Nowell, Sara Recny, Jeremy Bigelow, Allie Leatherman, Matthew Rodreick, James Leatherman

The grants are administered by the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Third Frontier program. This is a technology-based economic development initiative that works with innovative startup companies, and aims to advance collaborative research at institutes of higher education across the state.

Several members of the Ohio Cure Advocacy Network are current members of the advisory board - Jeremy Bigelow, Ian Burkhart, David Casares, Allie Leatherman, and Peter Nowell. These individuals review research proposals alongside SCI researchers, clinicians, and neurosurgeons and recommend which projects should be funded.

The advisory board has awarded the 2023 Third Frontier SCI Program funds to:

  • Megan Reissman, of University of Dayton, for Assessing Clinical Translation of VR Based Upper Extremity Rehabilitation after SCI;
  • Anne Bryden, PhD, OTR/L, of Case Western Reserve University, MetroHealth, for Implementing Upper Extremity Lower Motor Neuron Assessment in Cervical SCI;
  • Yu-Shang Lee, PhD, and Ching-Yi Lin, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of CWRU, for Advancing a Novel Scar-Degradation Peptide to Repair Chronic SCI;
  • Ceren Yarar-Fisher, PhD, of Ohio State University, for the Role of Microbiome on Bowel Health after SCI;
  • Megan Moynahan, MS, of Case Western Reserve University, for KeyGrip: Handgrasp Made Simple;
  • Timothy Lucas, MD, PhD, MHCI, of Ohio State University, Wexler Medical Center with Battelle Memorial Institute and Spark Biomedical, for Improved Hand Function Following SCI with a Non-Invasive Neuromodulation Therapy; and,
  • Eric Schearer, PhD, of Cleveland State University, for Bringing Robot Assistants into the Homes of People with Cervical SCI.

Six of these projects are receiving additional funding to carry on research, or similarly related to research projects which were funded in a previous cycle of the Third Frontier SCI funding. The remaining project is completely new and a first-time recipient of the Third Frontier SCI funding. You can read about each of these research projects in more detail here.


U2FP OH CAN advocates gather at Ohio State University’s conference back in June 2023: Spinal Cord Injury Research, Rehab, Care & Community at OSU: Tradition, Community & Outlook. From left: Jeremy Bigelow, Jason Stoffer, Mechelle Zarou, Mackenzie Coughlan, Matthew Rodreick, Jeni Belt, Allie Leatherman, and Rachel Adams.

After the announcement of the 2023 funding, Peter Nowell, of Columbus, who was one of the original Ohio Cure Advocacy Network advocates, and is now the Co-Chair of the Third Frontier SCI Research Advisory Board said, “The latest proposals were lower in number but more focused on the needs of the community. The number of proposals being granted funding to continue work initiated by earlier Third Frontier support demonstrate the value of this source of funding. Other projects have provided data necessary to leverage funding from NIH to continue their work.”

Advisory board member Ian Burkhart (a C5 tetraplegic), of Columbus, has worked with Eric Schearer and other robotic research projects in Ohio. Ian has provided lived experience insight on how to best incorporate robotic technology to assist people living with SCI. When asked about his involvement in sharing his expertise with these labs, as well as witnessing the improvement of the robotic technology over the years, Ian said, “Engaging individuals who live with SCI and can share their daily experiences allows for research to be more impactful and have a higher chance of translation while ensuring resources are wisely used.”

U2FP and the OH Cure Advocacy Network advocates will be connecting with these seven funded project researchers in 2024 to check-in on the development of each funded project, as well as to ask questions and provide feedback while the research projects are still ongoing.