Spinal cord injury research program at VA continues to grow
May 06, 2011 College News - The Medical College of Wisconsin and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center are collaborating to improve the lives of those with spinal cord injuries.
Spinal cord injury affects more than 12,000 Americans annually – including returning veterans – and health care for those individuals exceeds $6 billion. The Department of Neurosurgery’s spinal cord injury research program located at the VA includes a group of investigators with varied areas of expertise who are working to make improvements in care and find new therapies for patients with spinal cord injuries.
The program is currently focusing its efforts in three areas: cellular transplantation, magnetic stimulation for improving nerve function in spinal cord injury, and the development of imaging technology to assess recovery and prognosis.
Stem cell research and transplantation efforts
Researchers are working with different types of adult stem cells to determine the cells’ abilities to induce recovery of movement and sensation when implanted in injured spinal cords. The team has developed a protocol for processing stem cells prior to use that is now used worldwide. This process has eliminated the side effects that can appear when stem cells are not prepared properly.
This team is also working on developing patient-specific bone-marrow derived stem cells. All of the stem cell work is being done in animal models.
Magnetic stimulation for improving nerve function in spinal cord injury
Researchers are working on harnessing magnetic fields to help damaged nerves grow back in patients with spinal cord injuries. The work is currently being studied in animal models.
Development of imaging technology to assess recovery and prognosis
Researchers in the spinal cord injury research program also are developing new imaging technologies that can more accurately detect where the spinal cord is injured. The technologies being developed also will provide a way to see how the spinal cord rebuilds itself after treatment. It is anticipated that the technologies being developed will offer much more information to the patient – like how much function they may regain or the recovery timeline – than current MRI technology can offer.
Funding for these projects has come from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and The Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation, which donated $1 million to The Medical College of Wisconsin to support spinal cord injury research and establish The Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation Laboratories.
Faculty members involved in this research include Arshak Alexanian, PhD, VMD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery; Matthew Budde, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery; Maria Crowe, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery; Aleksandra Glavaski-Joksimovic, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery; Shekar Kurpad, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Director of the Spinal Cord Injury Lab at the VA and Medical Director of the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Froedtert Hospital; and Dennis J. Maiman, MD, PhD, Chairman and Professor of Neurosurgery.
MCW staff involved in these research projects include James Budzinski, Research Associate II, and Christy Stadig, Lab Supervisor.