Faculty mentor: Lonnie Shea, Ph.D.
Required skills: Interest in in vitro and in vivo research. Attention to detail. Curiosity and independent decision-making skills desired.
Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) causes paralysis below the level of damage, which results from neuron and oligodendrocyte cell death, axonal loss, demyelination, and critically, the limited capacity of spinal cord neurons to regenerate. Although spinal cord neurons have the innate capacity to regenerate, they are limited by the environment, which contains an insufficient supply of factors to promote regeneration, and an abundant supply of factors that inhibit regeneration. Our long-term goal is to develop a combination therapy based on biomaterials that can 1) bridge, and 2) modulate the injury microenvironment, enabling promotion and direction of axonal growth into, through, and re-entering spared host tissue to form functional connections with intact circuitry below the injury. Critically, over three decades of research on CNS regeneration and SCI have made it clear that this complex problem requires a combinatorial solution that targets both tropic and inhibitory barriers.