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Dr. Stephen Davies Lab
Dr. Davies is a leading Spinal Cord Injury researcher at the University of Colorado Denver. Dr. Davies works in the academic world of science where funding these days is scarce. As is the case for most top medical schools, the University of Colorado Denver only pays half his salary and none of the salaries and benefits for his staff. He’s therefore responsible for raising the money to advance promising leads. As a result, he must sacrifice lab-time to raise funds.
Dr. Davies' Lab
Academia attracts the best scientists, accesses the best technology, and is fiercely competitive. One would think success in the lab results in greater funding, and although this is in general true for early basic research, relatively little funding is available for translation of promising therapies to use in humans. Davies therefore needs money to translate science to therapy. For instance, the lab currently employs two post-doctorate fellows at a cost of $50,000 each annually, and although good salaries by academic standards, well below the going salaries for post-doctorates in the pharmaceutical industries. Davies wishes he could add at least ten more to pursue the necessary experiments. The 2008 SCI grant paid one post-doc’s salary for the year. Small donations have a meaningful impact. Dr. Davies’ other funding partners include: the National Institute of Health, The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the State of New York, and not surprisingly, individuals personally affected by SCI’s (themselves, family/friends).
Dr. Davies’ work is designed to deliver therapies to SCI victims. He’s not developing drugs for big pharmaceutical firms or treatments for private doctors. The experiments are designed to help people, especially those with chronic spinal cord injuries. His research is entering the “translational” stage: establishing safe doses and timings of treatments in combination with rehab, vitally important experiments that will lay the necessary groundwork for implementing therapies in clinical trials. He desperately needs funds to move forward with these more specific, labor-intensive, less glamorous experiments. It would be a tragic outcome to lose a potential cure because these translation experiments lack the necessary funding.
Dr. Davies' Lab
Dr. Davies's work is exciting. His latest experiments demonstrate that axons, or nerve fibers, can regenerate long after injury. It’s the scar that is the major obstacle. He’s shown that molecules within spinal cord scar tissue inhibit axon growth and that either lowering the levels of inhibitors within the injured spinal cord or suppressing their effects on nerve fibers encourages spinal cord regeneration. With these principles in mind, he’s used a naturally occurring mammalian molecule called Decorin to promote axon growth in the injured spinal cord by suppressing scar formation and the sensitivity of nerve fibers to multiple inhibitors. Another highly promising approach is the transplantation of stem cell derived astrocytes. Astrocytes are an important type of central nervous cells that make up 70% of all cells in the human brain and spinal cord. The Davies research team are the first in the world to make specific types of astrocytes from stem cells and show that transplanting these cells into spinal cord injuries promotes robust axon regeneration and functional recovery. Furthermore his team has shown that transplanting stem cells alone or the wrong types of stem cell derived astrocytes fails to promote robust recovery and even promotes pain. Davies has high hopes that the “right astrocyte” can repair both acute and chronic SCIs in humans.
Dr. Davies' Office
The data back up his hopes. The previous axon regrowth record was 5% of all axons across a spinal cord injury. Davies saw 40% of injured axons cross astrocyte treated injuries and regain of near pre-injury performance on locomotion tests by animals with an SCI, while not affecting sensitivity to pain. These results are published in the Journal of Biology (2008, Volume 7, Article 24) and the European Journal of Neuroscience (2004, Volume 19), with further acute and chronic SCI studies set to be published by the end of the year.
All of the work is done to help people. The results are impressive and impossible to ignore. The funding isn’t sufficient for the cause and the promise of a solution. Davies is still moving forward.