Health Sciences

Marquette, Medical College of Wisconsin receive $3.2 million NIH R01 award to study muscle fatigue in stroke survivors 

Dr. Allison Hyngstrom

Marquette and the Medical College of Wisconsin have received an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study muscle fatigue in stroke survivors and solutions to increase their muscle performance. The grant has an expected value of $3.2 million over five years and was awarded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 

Dr. Allison Hyngstrom, chair and professor of physical therapy in Marquette’s College of Health Sciences, and Dr. Matt Durand, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at MCW, are the principal investigators on the award. 

“Increased fatigability, which is the acute, exercise-induced reduction in force, is an understudied consequence of stroke,” Hyngstrom said. “This is a clinically meaningful area of study because increased neuromuscular fatigability can negatively affect endurance for activities like walking. Also, successful post-stroke rehabilitation strategies require repeated levels of muscle activation and overload to cause functional gains in motor performance.” 

Hyngstrom and Durand’s team will examine how blood flow is regulated to the exercising leg muscle of individuals post-stroke as muscles become fatigued if there is not enough blood flow to the area. They will use a safe and simple non-invasive intervention called ischemic conditioning, which has known effects to improve blood flow in exercising muscle, to determine its effects on muscle fatigue. 

“Our central hypothesis is that people who have suffered a stroke face impaired functional sympatholysis—the mechanism by which the body maintains blood flow to exercising muscles to meet the energy demands of the task—and this results in dysregulated blood flow during exercise,” Durand added. “This exacerbates neuromuscular fatigability and limits motor function. Our goal is, ultimately, to determine if we can improve muscle performance through ischemic conditioning and understand if the improvements are associated with increased blood flow to the muscle and reduced paretic muscle fatigability.” 

“This grant award validates the viability of the present hypothesis on muscle fatigability,” said Dr. William Cullinan, dean of Marquette’s College of Health Sciences. “Muscle fatigue can hinder post-stroke rehabilitation efforts and lead to adverse outcomes not only physically, but mentally and financially. Their research has the opportunity to be a positive development for stroke survivors as they work towards pre-stroke mobility.”  

The research team also includes Dr. Chris Sundberg, assistant professor of physical therapy; Dr. Sandra Hunter, professor of exercise science; and Dr. Brian Schmit, Hammes Family Professor in the Marquette and MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

The NIH’s Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH. The R01 provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH. R01s can be investigator-initiated or can be solicited. 

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development was founded in 1962 to investigate human development throughout the entire life process, with a focus on understanding disabilities and important events that occur during pregnancy. Since then, research conducted and funded by NICHD has helped save lives, improve wellbeing, and reduce societal costs associated with illness and disability. NICHD’s mission is to lead research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all.