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Spinal Cord Research in the Spotlight at Schmitt Symposium

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Scientists are gathering this week to highlight recent advances in the field of spinal cord research and to talk about what’s coming next for patients with such injuries.

Scientists will meet Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29, at the University of Rochester Medical Center during the annual Schmitt Program on Integrative Brain Research, a meeting devoted to neuroscience and sponsored by the Kilian J. and Caroline F. Schmitt Foundation. The scientists will discuss the use of stem cells and other approaches to coax the body to heal spinal cord injuries.

The meeting will include a mix of University of Rochester scientists along with other top scientists from around the nation.

John McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore will kick off events with a keynote address Thursday about translational research – taking discoveries from the laboratory and fostering their development into meaningful treatments for patients. Several medications designed to help patients with spinal cord injury or prevent damage in those who recently were injured are currently being tested.

Rochester presenters include Roman Giger, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics; Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D, professor of Neurology; Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neurosurgery; and Mark Noble, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics.

The Rochester scientists will discuss research projects designed to limit or repair the damage from spinal cord injury in a range of ways. Giger is working to overcome molecular signals that keep nerves from growing back once they’ve been severed. Goldman is developing ways to use stem cells to replenish and replace the cells damaged in an injury. Nedergaard is seeking ways to limit further damage immediately after an injury occurs, and Noble is developing ways to use stem cells to allow the body to fix the nerve cells in a damaged spinal cord. The Rochester scientists have early results showing that it’s possible to re-grow severed spinal nerves in an organism – a feat once considered impossible.

“There is a great deal of excitement in the field,” said Giger, who along with Noble is organizing the meeting. “Ten or 15 years ago, it was generally believed that there was no way to repair the nervous system. Nowadays, I think it’s safe to say that even the most pessimistic scientists have changed their minds. There have been some groundbreaking discoveries on the research side, and we have some very specific molecular targets, though it will take time to take full advantage of them for patients.”

The meeting will also feature visiting scientists exploring other means to treat people with damaged spinal cords. Neville Hogan, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will discuss using robots to help people recover after an injury. Other speakers include Marie Filbin, Ph.D., of Hunter College, and Stephen Davies, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine.

The Schmitt Foundation supports the Schmitt Program on Integrative Brain Research (SPIBR), a campus-wide initiative to promote understanding of the nervous system and its disorders. The program funds meetings such as the symposium as well as visits by scientists, training fellowships, and new research projects. The program is sponsored by the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and the Center for Aging and Developmental Biology.

Anyone interested in attending the symposium should register by contacting Patti Thomson at (585) 275-2591,

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