Dr. Steven Prior
May 14, 2018

Steven J. Prior, assistant professor of Kinesiology, has received an R21 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a novel study titled “Neuromuscular Rehabilitation to improve function in older adults with peripheral artery disease (PAD).”

The circulatory disease PAD occurs when narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs and extremities. It affects nearly 20% of older adults and results in substantial health care costs, the loss of functional independence and could lead to other problems like type 2 diabetes.

Most of today’s PAD treatments involve drugs or surgery, but those types of treatments can’t always restore the body’s function to levels in other healthy adults. The two-year R21 grant secures $275,000 in funding to explore a first-of-its-kind treatment using neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to improve the quality of life, circulation and functional independence of PAD patients.

Dr. Prior hypothesizes that adding NMES to an exercise regimen could aid in the body’s ability to create new blood vessels, increase skeletal muscle capillary density and improve blood flow in muscles. Neuromuscular stimulation is a type of therapy typically delivered by a device that sends electrical impulses causing muscle contractions.

Typical aerobic exercise training programs do help improve the function of PAD patients, but they do not restore functional status to that of healthy older adults.  Dr. Prior believes that additional therapies like NMES could lead to improved function in those patients.

“This new study provides the resources to investigate a novel intervention to potentially improve the formation of new blood vessels, which can lead to improvements in metabolism and physical function in older PAD patients,” he said. 

Dr. Prior is an expert in research that examines vascular dysfunction in older adults and how exercise can restore normal function. His laboratory uses state-of-the-art techniques to study topics including angiogenesis, or the creation of new capillaries and blood vessels from pre-existing vessels, and how to reverse vascular impairments in skeletal muscle of older adults.

His newest study could lead to larger trials intended to improve the treatment of older PAD patients. This is especially important because identifying effective rehabilitation programs could improve lives and reduce rates of surgical intervention, morbidity and mortality in older adults living with PAD.



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Steven J. Prior