Accelerator for
Harrison gift empowers neuroprosthetics center to revolutionize treatments for neurological conditions
Dr. Dimitry G. Sayenko uses neuroprosthetic devices and MRIs in his research to restore limb movement
It can happen in a split second. A person suffers a stroke and loses movement on one side of the body. Another becomes paralyzed after a car accident. Their lives are permanently altered. Reversing the devastation caused by a neurological condition or a spinal cord injury has long eluded the medical community — until now.
Houston Methodist has partnered with Rice University to launch the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces, a future epicenter for restorative medicine. At the center — and at its offshoot lab within Houston Methodist — neurosurgeons, neuroengineers and neurobiologists will collaborate to develop new technologies or refine existing applications that send signals to the brain to awaken activity. They aim to harness these innovations to one day restore function, movement, cognition and/or memory in patients who experience various neurological disorders.
“This center will be a human laboratory where all of us can work together to solve biomedical problems in the brain and spinal cord,” says center co-director Dr. Gavin W. Britz, the Candy and Tom Knudson Distinguished Centennial Chair in Neurosurgery and chair of the Houston Methodist Department of Neurosurgery. “It is a collaboration that can finally offer some hope and options for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from brain diseases and injuries.”
Through neurostimulation of the spine, Dr. Dimitry G. Sayenko, postdoctoral fellow Jeonghoon Oh and physical therapist Catherine Martin can help people who are paralyzed from an accident or stroke regain the ability to stand
The experts at the center will work in an emerging field: neuroprosthetics. Philip Horner, PhD, scientific director of the Houston Methodist Center for Neuroregeneration, defines neuroprosthetics as a discipline that merges “hardware with wetware.” He explains that surgeons incorporate the hardware — robotics, computers and technology — into the wetware — the human brain or spinal cord. Simply put, neuroprosthetics connect the brain to a device to replace missing biological function.
“We restore, rebuild and make whole those parts which nature hath given, but which fortune has taken away.”
Gaspare Tagliacozzi, 1545–1599
Dr. Britz says this work can’t come soon enough. “We’re ready to move beyond just taking out brain tumors. We want to begin replacing or augmenting parts of the brain to repair or optimize human beings,” says Dr. Britz. “This center will be an accelerator for discovery.”
Its potential for revolutionizing neurological treatments has already attracted benefactors, one of whom is Rosemary Harrison. Even as an art history major, Rosemary loved medicine. “My father was a dentist and raised us in a science-minded home,” she says. “So I have always had an interest in those subjects.”
Rosemary, who also desired to honor her late husband, Dan, made a philanthropic commitment to establish the Rosemary and Daniel J. Harrison III Presidential Distinguished Chair in Neuroprosthetics within the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. The chair will support a superstar in the field who will develop novel neuroprosthetics and test their effectiveness. “Dan loved to help others — from being there for a friend in need to supporting institutions that propel Houston forward, like Houston Methodist,” Rosemary says. “As a family, we have always believed in lending a helping hand.”
The gift also creates the Rosemary and Daniel J. Harrison III Research Fund in Neuroprosthetics, which will support the research endeavors of the future chairholder. To top it off, an anonymous donor elevated the philanthropic impact of Rosemary’s gift by making a lead commitment toward many promising ideas in neuroprosthetics.
Dr. Sayenko and his team employ an Ekso GT robotic exoskeleton and noninvasive stimulation to assist people with paralysis to stand and walk
Together, these gifts allow research teams at the center to work toward moving neurosurgery away from its history of cutting disease out of the brain and toward a future in which implanted technology restores movement, function and memory.
One such example involves the merging of two technologies to restore hand function following a spinal cord injury or stroke. This project is a collaboration between Houston Methodist’s Dr. Dimitry G. Sayenko, the Paula and Joseph C. “Rusty” Walter III Associate Professor in Neuromodulation, and Rice University’s Marcia O’Malley, PhD, associate dean for research and innovation at the George R. Brown School of Engineering. The team will pair the upper limb exoskeleton invented by O’Malley with Dr. Sayenko’s noninvasive stimulator designed to wake up the spinal cord. Together, they hope these technologies will help patients achieve a more extensive recovery at a faster pace.
It was projects like this one that sparked Rosemary’s interest. “We made this gift because we believe in research — research that translates into helping people,” says Rosemary. “If we don’t have the people needed to conduct the research, then we won’t have the advancements that make it to the bedside.”
The Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces will soon occupy a physical space of more than 25,000 square feet inside Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative and an extensive build-out currently underway at the Houston Methodist Outpatient Center.

Construction is set for completion in 2023. The Houston Methodist facility will include operating rooms and a human laboratory where teams will perform ongoing patient/volunteer diagnosis and assessment as well as map out device fabrication and testing.
Up to the Challenge
It’s a not-so-secret recipe — offer fundraising challenges and matching gift opportunities to inspire generous giving. In turn, those gifts will help fund scientific discoveries as well as attract and retain brilliant scientific minds. All this enables transformational changes in health care and the patient experience.
This is the recipe that prompted an anonymous philanthropic commitment to Houston Methodist in 2022 — $50 million toward creating an exceptional array of matching opportunities designed to stretch across the hospital system. The gift creates two new fundraising challenges.
The Unparalleled Potential Challenge will result in at least 40 new endowed positions intended to attract and retain the best and brightest early- and mid-career faculty — the rising stars in their fields.
The Inspire Fund Challenge will create 20 new endowments for both chairs and research funds to build strength and resources for growing departments and priority areas. Additional funds from the gift will support neuroprosthetics and neuromodulation within the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, as well as the Joint Preservation & Outcomes Laboratory and the Center for Musculoskeletal Regeneration within Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
This second-largest single gift in Houston Methodist’s history has already inspired benefactors such as Rosemary Harrison to add their philanthropic support. With many more matching opportunities available in 2023 and beyond, the potential for leading medicine is limitless.