Skip to content

RESEARCH JOURNAL FEATURE: Kim Anderson-Erisman, Ph.D.

In 2009 Dr. Anderson joined The Miami Project as their Director of the Education and in 2011 became a Research Associate Professor. In addition to conducting her own research, she has the opportunity to make a
meaningful impact in the lives of people with SCI by directing the education and community outreach efforts.

Kim Anderson-Erisman, Ph.D.
Kim Anderson-Erisman, Ph.D.

Dr. Kim Anderson-Erisman, Research Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery and Director of Education, is passionate about bridging the gap between research and clinical practice in spinal cord injury (SCI). Her goal is to move evidence-based therapies and technologies out of the laboratory and to the SCI population where their benefits can create meaningful change in people’s lives. Throughout her career, Dr. Anderson’s research has crossed many levels, from cellular and molecular studies, to animal research, to clinical trials. In addition to her broad range of experience, Dr. Anderson brings a special perspective to her work, as she has a SCI herself.

At the age of seventeen, halfway through her senior year of high school, Dr. Anderson was involved in a motor vehicle accident and sustained a cervical-level SCI. When she was in the hospital, she received home schooling from a teacher so that she did not fall behind in her schoolwork, which allowed her to graduate on time with her class just a few weeks after leaving rehab. Despite the challenges of adjusting to life with a SCI, she moved away from home that fall and studied marine biology at Texas A&M University. As a junior and senior in college, she took some classes that started to peak her interest in neuroscience, at the same time she was evolving with her SCI. Although she was considering graduate school, she wasn’t sure that she could perform the required laboratory experiments due to the physical limitations caused by the paralysis of her hand muscles. Thankfully, two amazing professors encouraged her to go to grad school and told her that it was only temporary that people would have to help her with lab work. They told her that, in the end, it would be all about her brain and her intelligence in order to be successful in her career. So, off she went to the University of New Mexico for graduate school, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship and faculty appointment at the University of California at Irvine.

While attending SCI conferences and professional meetings over the years, she noticed that the majority of scientists were focused on walking and using thoracic SCI models. Yet, in her own personal experience and in talking with her friends, she knew that walking wasn’t the highest priority for people living with SCI. She wished that SCI researchers would begin focusing on other aspects of SCI – like bladder or bowel function and hand function, but didn’t know how to get that message out. She knew, however, that scientists would only believe data… So, she put together a survey to identify the most important functions for people with SCI and almost 700 people participated. The results were not surprising to her – hand function, sexual function, and autonomic functions were more important to people than walking. When her study was published in 2004, she didn’t realize how much of an impact it would end up having in the SCI research field. Now it is the 3rd most cited paper in the Journal of Neurotrauma and many studies are now designed to address the real needs
of people living with SCI.

It was at this point that she realized that she was in a unique position – having been trained in molecular and animal research, starting to learn about clinical research, and having a spinal cord injury – there weren’t
many people who fit that category. In 2009 Dr. Anderson joined The Miami Project as their Director of Education and in 2011 became a Research Associate Professor. In addition to conducting her own research, she has
the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the lives of people with SCI by directing the education and community outreach efforts. As if she wasn’t busy enough, she also manages all of the Schwann cell  transplantation clinical trials.

The field of SCI research has changed so much since Dr. Anderson was injured, and she is excited about the future. When she was injured, very few clinical trials focused on SCI. In contrast, numerous phase I and phase II clinical trials for SCI are now taking place around the country, based on rehabilitation and technology, as well as drug, cell, and surgical interventions. As the number of clinical trials for SCI continued to grow in the recent years, Dr. Anderson recognized the need for researchers to better understand the factors that encourage or interfere with people’s decision to participate in trials. She recently published the results from
an international survey of over 800 people with SCI, which can be used to better design trials in a way that is less burdensome to participants. She is also working to create a North American alliance to promote SCI
consumer engagement across the spectrum of research.

Anderson KD, Cowan RE, Horsewell J. (2016). Facilitators and barriers to spinal cord injury (SCI) clinical trial participation: Multi-national perspective of people living with SCI. J. Neurotrauma. 33(5):493-499.

We at The Miami Project are very fortunate to have Dr. Anderson helping to steer the direction of the SCI field, so that it will have the greatest impact in the lives of people with SCIs. When she’s not thinking about
research she’s living life to the fullest with her husband Tim Erisman and their two dogs. From sitting atop the 5000 year old ruins of Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands in the North Sea to getting married in the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, one thing having an SCI has taught her is to never take anything for granted. We would like to thank Dr. Anderson for her passionate and tireless efforts toward improving the lives of individuals with SCI.