Yale Researchers Receive $4.5 Million Grant to Study Spinal Cord Repair
Yale researchers Stephen G. Waxman, M.D. and Jeffery D. Kocsis have received a $4.5 million grant from the Veterans Administration Rehabilitation Research and Development Service to continue their internationally recognized research training program focused on restoration of function in spinal cord injury (SCI) and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The renewed five-year grant to the Center of Excellence on Restoration of Function (CERF) in SCI and MS at the West Haven Veterans Affairs Medical Center will fund biomedical research to benefit people with nerve and spinal cord injuries. CERF uses molecular and cellular technology to study factors that influence nerve signal conduction and to identify strategies that can protect, repair and support the injured nervous system.
“SCI, MS and related disorders represent a major health challenge for our country,” said Center Director Waxman, who is professor and chair of the Department of Neurology. “We believe that restoration of normal or near-normal function in these disorders, while not an easy objective is a realistic and achievable one – this is the major objective of our Center. We immensely appreciate the support from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which will enable us to move closer to this objective.”
Since its inception in 1999, CERF has made significant progress in the area of rehabilitation research including initiation of the first human clinical study of Schwann cell transplantation in MS and demonstration of nerve repair via intravenous injection of bone marrow-derived adult stem cells. The center has identified potential molecular targets for restoration of coordination and vision in MS and has developed a new therapeutic strategy to preserve neurological function in MS by preventing degeneration of nerve fibers within the spinal cord and brain.
CERF also investigates a combination of molecular and cellular approaches with rehabilitation therapies, and is currently assessing the use of body-weight supported, robotic treadmill therapy to restore gait in animal models of MS and in patients. “Combining cellular interventions such as cell transplantation to encourage remyelination and axon growth with appropriate rehabilitation programs will help us better understand the interactions of biological and physical interventions in promoting functional recovery,” said Kocsis, professor of neurology and associate director of the Center.
In recent months, animal studies at CERF pinpointed a molecule responsible for chronic pain in SCI and blocked the pain successfully by targeting the molecule. “All of our projects, aimed at restoration and preservation of neurological function, have a sequential overall structure – studies at the molecular or cellular level leading to studies in whole animal models, clinical trials and ultimately restoration of function in people with SCI and MS,” said Waxman.
During the past five years, over 40 medical and graduate students, fellows and visiting scientists have been trained in rehabilitation-oriented neurology focusing on SCI and MS at this Center.