Dr. Kevin K. Park Selected as 2012 Pew Scholar

Miami Project Researcher Honored  as Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences

June 14, 2012 —Twenty-two of the nation’s most innovative young researchers, including Dr. Kevin Park assistant professor, Department of Neurological Surgery and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, were named Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts today. The Scholars join a prestigious community that includes Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows, and recipients of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.

“During these challenging budgetary times when traditional sources of funding are becoming even harder for scientists to obtain, we are proud to back our country’s most promising scientists,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “This funding comes at points in the Scholars’ professional lives when they often are the most innovative. While this program is a bold investment for us, it has paid incalculable dividends due to our Scholars’ record of producing groundbreaking research.”

The new class of scholars is exploring a range of human health issues from antibiotic-resistant infections to liver disease and cancer.  Launched in 1985, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences identifies and invests in talented researchers in medicine or biomedical sciences. In that time, over 500 Pew Scholars have received more than $30 million in funding. By backing them early in their careers, this program enables our most promising scientists to take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to advance human health.

“Damaged nerves in the central nervous system, like those found in the spinal cord and optic nerve, do not inherently re-grow, causing permanent loss of motor and sensory functions.  My research explores strategies to stimulate injured nerve fibers to re-grow and reconnect to their targets, with hopes of restoring these lost functions.  As a researcher, being named a Pew Scholar is a tremendous honor,” said Dr. Park.  “The award reflects the outstanding research environment and support I have received as a principal investigator at the Miller School’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which has allowed my work to be carried out and be acknowledged by the Foundation. The award will provide not only resources to perform research into promoting nerve regeneration, but also allow irreplaceable opportunities to interact with other young investigators.”

Biography: Kevin K. Park, Ph.D., completed his doctoral research in anatomy and human biology working with Dr. Alan Harvey at the University of Western Australia in 2007.  He was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Zhigang He at Harvard University and the Children’s Hospital Boston in 2007, and then joined the faculty of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as an assistant professor of neurological surgery in 2010. Dr. Park investigates ways to stimulate the regeneration of the optic nerve. Head injuries and ocular diseases can damage the optic nerve—the track that carries visual information to the brain.  Once this nerve is severed, it cannot grow back. Dr. Park previously discovered that certain genes within neurons prevent optic nerve regeneration. When these genes are inactivated in mice, he finds a crushed optic nerve will begin to regrow. Using microscopy and cell biology, Dr. Park will determine which retinal cells form part of this regenerated optic nerve, and whether these cells re-establish functional connections within the brain, restoring its ability to regulate visual functions in response to light. His work has obvious implications for understanding nerve-cell regeneration and could lead to new treatments for types of nerve damage that involve the brain and the spinal cord.

The Pew Charitable Trusts (www.pewtrusts.org) is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.