ISRT picks up two chronic paralysis research projects from presentations at the Working 2 Walk 2012 Symposium

Harvey Sihota and Dr. Ravi Bellamkonda

Harvey Sihota and Dr. Ravi Bellamkonda

Perhaps some of the most exciting developments that occur from the annual Working 2 Walk Symposium are scientific collaborations and partnerships built by Unite 2 Fight Paralysis.

Two of the presenters at the 2012 symposium held in Irvine California in November have been given the green light by the International Spinal Research Trust. The announcement was posted today on the ISRT website.

Spinal Research is the UK’s leading charity funding medical research around the world to develop reliable treatments for paralysis caused by a broken back or neck. Spinal Research raises money to fund research into clinical treatments as well as vital basic science research. Thanks to such pioneering research, paralysis can now be treated and we stand on the brink of applying therapies that will restore movement and feeling and transform the lives of paralyzed people. ISRT has funded over 120 research projects which have achieved a number of groundbreaking changes in the field. The field of spinal cord injury research has taken many lessons from other fields. Worldwide collaborative approaches amongst clinicians and researchers, as well as funding organisations, ensure our efforts are as coordinated and effective as possible. As well as funding internationally, Spinal Research has actively pursued collaborative efforts.

29364_10151530713742846_1080615291_n Murray Blackmore, PhD, Associate Professor, Marquette University. Dr. Blackmore is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Minnesota, and did his postdoctoral training at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. His goals are to 1. Identify genes that explain differences in regenerative ability between different types of neurons, and 2. Manipulate gene expression in neurons to promote regenerative ability. Ultimately his lab aims to develop gene therapies to promote the regrowth of axons in the injured spinal cord and brain. Dr. Blackmore can be seen HERE. After spinal cord injury, many neurons enter a dormant, withered condition that prevents regenerative growth. This project aims to reawaken these neurons using a gene therapy strategy. The group recently discovered that the proteins KLF7 and Sox11 have the ability to re-ignite the built-in regenerative ability in neurons when delivered via direct viral injection. This approach is completely new and preliminary data in acute injuries looks very promising. The project will now test the efficacy of this therapeutic strategy on injuries that are chronic (long-term) and more severe in combination with existing treatments tackling factors that inhibit repair. This strategy could potentially boost hand function and make a difference in patients’ lives in the near future.

561576_10151530714557846_623275712_n Ravi Bellamkonda, PhD, Walter H. Coulter Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Bellamkonda’s lab focuses on peripheral nerve regeneration and interfacing, as well as overcoming the CSPG (Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycan) contribution to regenerative failure in the central nervous system. He also looks at interfacing technologies that might better integrate electronics into the nervous system. Dr. Bellamkonda can be seen HERE.
During the last decade, the bacterial enzyme chondroitinase has emerged as a promising intervention to treat spinal cord injury; numerous studies have demonstrated its effect in reducing scarring, preserving nerve function in the injury zone and improving recovery of normal movements. However, the experimental therapy needs further pre-clinical data gathered in models with greater clinical relevance. This project will therefore test the treatment in pet dogs who have sustained severe and chronic accidental spinal cord injury. If the project demonstrates efficacy then it would provide a ‘green light’ for human clinical trials, thus accelerating the translation of the intervention from laboratory to clinic.

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