Spinal cord research moving forward in 2008

Since its co-founding in 1985 by Dr. Barth A. Green and three families affected by spinal-cord injuries, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the Miller School of Medicine has enjoyed a legacy of scientific and social developments.

In 2004, the Miami Project published a breakthrough article regarding dramatic improvement in animal models of spinal-cord injury, utilizing a combination of cells and drugs.

Now, they are trying to bring a treatment using Schwann cells, or cells particular to the peripheral nervous system that separate and insulate nerve cells, to clinical trial. This requires an FDA application and extensive process for approval, but could be a major advancement in spinal-cord injury research.

Scientific Director for The Miami Project Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich is working to coordinate faculty members with consultants from the FDA.

“Approval is being sought, and hopefully will be attained, from the FDA to begin phase one of trials and to begin clinical transformation,” says Maria Amador, director of education for The Miami Project. “The hope is to get approval by the end of 2008.”

One of the project’s major goals is to use neurobiological science on a fundamental level and to apply these findings on a clinical level. While the project is focused on spinal-cord injury, its developments can also carry over to other neurological disorders.

For example, the study of remyelination of cells can potentially impact multiple sclerosis research. Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that affects muscle movements, coordination and balance, and has numerous symptoms including spasms, problems in speech and vision problems.

Nationwide, several other medical facilities are initiating their own spinal-cord research using The Miami Project as a guide.

Dietrich said that research centers at the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, The Ohio State University and the University of California, Irvine, are developing large SCI research centers.

“Some of these new centers have used the organizational framework of The Miami Project,” Dietrich said. “We are also very involved with training the next generation of scientists to continue this important work. These are truly exciting times.”

Chelsea Kate Isaacs contributed to this article.

Ryan Watzel may be contacted at rwatzel@umsis.miami.edu.