Argyrios Stampas, MD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has been awarded a KL2 training grant for research pertaining to bladder conditions for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients.

It was presented by the Center for Clinical & Translational Sciences at UTHealth, which is funded by the Clinical and Translation Science Award (CTSA) Programs of the National Institutes of Health. KL2 awards support mentored research career development for clinical investigators who have recently completed professional training and who are commencing basic, translation, and/or clinical research.

Stampas, the research director of the TIRR SCI Medicine Program, completed the coursework for the McGovern Medical School Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Research Degree Program to begin the process of becoming a researcher. The 36-credit degree program trains clinical investigators to conduct exemplary quality clinical research and become competitive in seeking research support.

“It’s very difficult for a clinician to turn into a researcher, because you really need the support from your department and from the university if you want to make that leap,” Stampas said. “You’re competing against PhDs who have developed years of research through their training. That’s one of the reasons I came to McGovern, because I know they have a strong track record for helping develop physician researchers.”

With the KL2 funding, Stampas is able to continue the training to become a better clinical researcher, while also receiving the tools needed to be able to possibly provide a new treatment to better the quality of life of patients living with spinal cord injury through his clinical trial.

One of the major changes that occur in patients with acute spinal cord injuries is loss of bladder function. According to Stampas, clinicians know how the bladder normally works, and they are able to see how it works after the injury, but not much is done currently to prevent or slow down the detrimental changes that occur to the bladder function.

“The type of health care where you wait until there is a problem and then treat, is really not preferred,” Stampas said. “After keeping up to date with research, the thought was that if we can provided electric stimulation, we might be able to prevent that problem from occurring to that extent.”

Stampas treated 19 subjects with electric stimulation following their acute injuries and saw that they maintained bladder function better than the control subjects who received no stimulation. Though both the test group and the control group saw a loss in bladder function, the test group’s loss was slowed significantly.

In order to ensure that patients can treat themselves with the electric stimulation outside of the clinic, Stampas used electric stimulation devices that can be purchased at any physical therapy center or durable medical equipment vendor. The device is affordable and FDA approved for other indications, making it ideal for in-home use.

The next step in the research was to send 16 patients home with the electric stimulation device. Stampas and his staff trained the patients on how to use the device in clinic and then sent them home for four weeks where patients track their incontinence episodes and how often they catheterized themselves.

“Their bladder function levels were stable with the in-home treatment, but I was able to reduce dosage of their bladder medication,” Stampas said. “That’s a big win, because the bladder medications have side effects that nobody wants like dry mouth, sedation, and constipation. There is also new research that shows it may have an association with dementia.”

Stampas said that his patients can often be younger and require higher doses of bladder medication than non-spinal cord injury patients require. The higher doses could lead to worse side effects, non-compliance, and subsequently worse complications later in life.

The next step for Stampas’ research will be to conduct a randomized control trial in an outpatient setting. The trial will extend the length of treatment from four weeks to three months while also attempting to taper bladder medication. Stampas said he also was recently awarded a grant to trial the treatment from acute rehabilitation to discharge, for an entire year after discharge.

“This award is everything, because without a PhD, the chance of getting an NIH grant is nearly impossible,” Stampas said. “This gives me the opportunity to do some real science to help people improve their quality of life living with spinal cord injury.”

Stampas received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University before completing his physical medicine and rehabilitation internship and residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He then completed his fellowship in spinal cord injury medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute before joining the McGovern faculty in 2014.

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