Dr. Murray Blackmore, associate professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences at Marquette University, received a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a five-year project that targets regenerating injured nerve cells in spinal cord injuries. The grant is his third NIH grant of more than $1 million in the past six years.
The project, entitled “Combinatorial Manipulation of Transcription Factors to Promote (Central Nervous System) Regeneration,” is testing cutting-edge gene therapy approaches to boost regenerative ability in injured nerve cells and help restore connections across the injury site.
“Thanks to grants like this from the National Institutes of Health, as well as seed funding from organizations like the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation, we can continue to tackle the problem of spinal cord injury – specifically, of the regrowth of nerve cells at the injury site,” Blackmore said.
In adults, axons in the central nervous system generally fail to regenerate after they are lost due to injury or disease, leading to permanent disability. Axon growth is prevented by a hostile growth environment, as well as developmental loss as neurons age.
Blackmore’s team will test three complementary and mutually supportive strategies to enhance the promising properties of a pro-regenerative transcription factor called KLF6. Blackmore’s research team hopes is to harness a newly developed gene therapy that enables retrograde delivery of genes with unprecedented efficiency. Injection of this therapy to the spinal cord results in widespread gene expression in injured neurons throughout the brainstem, midbrain and motor cortex.
“Dr. Blackmore continues to push the boundaries of what is currently possible within the field of spinal cord injury research, utilizing state-of-the-art scientific approaches,” said Dr. William E. Cullinan, dean of the College of Health Sciences and director of the Integrative Neuroscience Research Center. “The work that he and his research group are doing is both highly creative and innovative, and the reason the National Institutes of Health has invested so much into his research program.”
NIH is the largest provider of public funds for research in the world, investing more than $32 billion annually to enhance life and reduce illness and disability.