Thursday, May 20, 2004

VCU-RRTC Training Opportunity - Spinal Cord Injury and Employment

VCU-RRTC Training Opportunity

SetNet - Satellite Telecourse - June 23, 2004 - 3 - 5 PM ET

Topic: Spinal Cord Injury and Employment

The telecast is a live two hour training via satellite broadcasting. Participants may call in during two question and answer sessions to ask the presenters questions.

This telecast will focus on information and strategies on employment following spinal cord injury. Community re-entry issues that affect employment will be examined. Knowledge about employment barriers; advancing technology; and Social Security benefits and work incentives will be presented.

Learning Objectives:

- Describe job search skills for people with SCI
- Understand the impact of work on Social Security benefits
- Provide strategies for finding housing for people with disabilities
- Identify available assistive technology
- Discuss the future outlook of employment for individuals with SCI.

Joanne Ellis - Co-founded Career Supports
Shawn Floyd - VCU Health System?s Model SCI Program.
Lex Frieden - Chairperson of the National Council on Disability (NCD) & Sr. VP at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research
William Fuller, Ph.D. - Housing Initiatives Officer with the VA Housing Development Authority & Vice Chairman of the Olmstead Community Integration Implementation Team
David Hess, Ph.D. - Asst. professor in the Depts. of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Psychology at VCU.
Jim Rothrock, M.S., L.P.C. - Commission of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services & chairs the Advisory Committee for the Spinal Cord Injury Project.
Joey Wallace, Ph.D. - Assistive Technology Policy and Funding Specialist with the VCU, Partnership for People with Disabilities & the VA Assistive Technology System and technology.

Please contact Roberta Martin, (804) 827-0749,
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Monday, May 17, 2004

Stem cell research is moving ahead

WASHINGTON -- The director of the National Institutes of Health, in a letter released over the weekend, told more than 200 members of Congress that stem cell research is advancing in the United States, but remains within the guidelines President Bush announced in 2001.

"We are making good progress in meeting the potential of this exciting new field of science," NIH director Elias Zerhouni wrote. But he acknowledged that "from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research."

That one phrase sparked hope in the increasingly aggressive movement to expand federal embryonic stem cell studies. Researchers think the cells hold the key to breakthroughs in a wide variety of ailments, including spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
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Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation Awards $2.026 Million in Research Grants

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. - The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF) announced today the results of its first research funding cycle for 2004. A total of $2,026,780 was awarded to 15 scientists for research on spinal cord injury paralysis.

"This is an extremely exciting time in spinal cord research and that fact is reflected in the broad scope of these 15 new grants and the cutting-edge tools and technologies the grantees are applying to the challenges of spinal cord repair," said Susan P. Howley, director of research and executive vice president of CRPF. "The number of applications to the Foundation received from researchers all over the globe has surged over the last 18 months, and we believe CRPF is supporting some of the most promising research that will lead to treatments and cures for spinal cord injury."

Every research application submitted to CRPF is reviewed by the Foundation's Science Advisory Council, a panel of accomplished neuroscientists who volunteer their time and expertise to evaluate proposals based on scientific merit, relevance to CRPF's research priorities, and promise for clinical application. This rigorous process ensures that CRPF funds only the most meritorious science that is targeted at developing effective therapies for paralysis and dysfunctions caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders.

Of the $2.026 million awarded, $708,402 will support projects investigating the promotion of axon growth and remyelination and $420,000 will fund rehabilitation projects examining the link between training, ameliorative changes in the damaged cord, and improved function. Thirteen percent of the total funding, or $267,033, will be directed towards stem cell research. Investigators exploring the growth inhibition of nerve cells were granted $74,250 and others looking at issues of concomitant function (for example, pain, and bowel, bladder and sexual function) were awarded grants totaling $257,095. $150,000 will support studies exploring how to direct re-growing axons to reach their proper targets and then initiate communications with target cells (axon guidance, synapse formation and neurotransmission), and $150,000 is earmarked for neuroprotection (protecting spinal neurons and their supporting cast of cells in the wake of spinal cord injury). For more details on these categories of research, visit
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New Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury

Magnetic therapy could help people who have suffered partial damage to their spinal cord, claims a study in the May issue of Spinal Cord.

British doctors found magnetic stimulation of the brain led to improvements in muscle motion for patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries. The stimulation also helped them regain some ability to feel sensations.

The therapy uses an electromagnet placed on the scalp to generate brief magnetic pulses. It stimulates the cerebral cortex, the top area of the brain responsible for high-level neural processing.

'We think it works by strengthening the information leaving the brain through the undamaged neurons in the spinal cord,' study co-author Dr. Nick Davey said in a prepared statement. 'It may work like physiotherapy but instead of repeating a physical task, the machine activates the surviving nerves to strengthen their connections,' he explained."

By: Dennis Thompson - (HealthDayNews)
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Monday, May 03, 2004

Researchers invent way to determine optimal conditions for spinal cord nerve regen in lab animals

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic researchers have created a method for measuring the growth of new spinal cord nerve fibers in rats, an advance that allows them to quickly determine nerve regeneration rate and what variables in the nerve-growth environment best support it.

The finding is important because it is a first step in laboratory animal models that will help scientists refine and improve nerve repair and regrowth in spinal cord injuries. While much basic science remains to be completed, this path of discovery could possibly lead one day to new therapies to reverse paralysis in human patients who have suffered complete spinal cord injury. The findings will be presented April 30 in San Francisco at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting.

Significance of the Mayo Clinic Finding

This new regrowth measurement method and evaluating conditions of the spinal microenvironment in which regrowth occurs extend earlier Mayo Clinic research. In the earlier research the team successfully regenerated healthy spinal nerve endings of paralyzed rats using an implantable scaffolding. The scaffolding is referred to as a "biodegradable spinal graft."

Mayo Clinic's experimental scaffolding consists of several innovations. It uses polymer chemistry to create a biodegradable material that can be molded, through microfabrication techniques, to make implantable, trellis-like scaffolding that both supports and guides new nerve fibers. It does this by providing channels through which the axons (nerve endings) grow.

The new measurement method shows that the scaffolding not only supports axon regeneration when seeded with cells that stimulate regrowth, but that it can quantify axon growth under different experimental conditions. "Knowing what conditions favor regrowth -- or retard it -- enables researchers to design a maximally efficient system for achieving the best regrowth," says Anthony Windebank, M.D., neurologist, molecular neuroscientist and joint principal investigator.

"We feel that this research program will make a contribution toward a solution to the spinal cord injury problem," adds Michael Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., orthopedic spinal surgeon and chemical engineer.

The determination of the effectiveness of the scaffolding is important because other surgical attempts to regenerate nerve growth do not direct and support the growth, so crucial connections needed to restore the damaged nerve are not always made. Without these connections, electrical impulses that coordinate movement cannot be conducted and paralysis cannot be reversed.
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Stem Cell Spinal Nerves Break Through

Exiting of spinal cord a step to their use for treating paralysis
By Gabe Romain, Betterhumans Staff

Stem cell-derived nerves have been prompted to migrate through the spinal cord in mice, an important step to their use for treating spinal cord damage in humans.

In experiments with rodents, researchers at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland overcame a big hurdle to restoring function in severely damaged central nervous systems: Getting new motor neurons to migrate through the spinal cord.

"We think that getting new motor neurons to travel properly through the cord is the major hurdle to try to restore muscle control," says John Hopkins researcher Douglas Kerr. "It's significant that axons from these motor neurons make it outside of the cord."

Blocked signals

The spinal cord carries sensory and motor signals to most of the skeletal muscles in the body. Just about every voluntary muscle in the body below the head depends on the spinal cord for control.

Paralysis can occur when a traumatic event damages cells in the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord.

While rehabilitative treatments help many people with spinal cord injury, methods for reducing the extent of injury and for restoring function are limited.

One strategy to repair damaged spinal cords involves directing stem cells into areas where neurons are damaged.

Much work remains, however, before researchers can use stem cells or cells derived from them to restore lost or damaged neurons in people.

A bit part of the problem is that stem-cell derived nerves are blocked from reaching muscles by myelin, which forms a sheath that insulates nerves and also inhibits the growth of axons, the nervous system's primary transmission lines.

Moving towards muscle

For their study, Kerr and colleagues first coaxed embryonic stem cells from mice to begin their transformation into motor neurons?also known as motoneurons.

They then implanted the motoneurons into paralyzed rats. "We transplanted roughly 12,000 cells per animal, and about 4,000 of them 'took,'" says Kerr. "They became true motor neurons and looked gorgeous."

Initially, the neurons didn't poke through the spinal cord and out into muscles because of the spinal cord's myelin sheath.

So the researchers used a constant drip of molecules that block the nerve-repelling activity of myelin to allow the cells to break through, and some did.

While the study is promising, however, the researchers say that much more work is needed because while the neurons were coaxed through the myelin sheath they didn't get much farther down the road to the real target: Muscles.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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