Miami Project Researchers Earn NINDS Fellowships

Three Members of The Miami Project Further Career With NINDS Fellowships

December 2014 – To support the career development of neuroscientists, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) provides National Research Service Award predoctoral training fellowships to promising students with the potential to become productive, independent investigators, and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis recently was fortunate to receive three of these fellowships.

From the lab of Daniel Liebl, Ph.D., associate professor of neurological surgery, Poincyane Assis-Nascimento and Enmanuel Perez-Martinez received this honor. Nicole Wilson, from the lab of Coleen Atkins, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery, also received a fellowship.

Assis-Nascimento is interested in the molecular signals that regulate blood vessel stabilizing and growth after central nervous system (CNS) injury. Blood vessels transport oxygen and nutrition to all CNS tissues and are critical for the health of the brain and spinal cord, especially after injury. Assis-Nascimento’s research will examine the molecular cues that regulate endothelial cell proliferation and vascular growth. These studies will provide a better understanding of how to protect and restore blood vessels after traumatic CNS injury.

Perez-Martinez is interested in examining the contribution of glial cells in the stabilization and formation of synapses. Maintaining and regenerating neuronal connections within the brain and spinal cord are essential for all bodily functions, including sensation, walking and cognition. The largest component of functional losses in the CNS is synaptic damage, thus understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate synaptic stability and reformation is critical.

Perez-Martinez’s research will examine whether glial cells play important roles in synaptic functions after traumatic injury, and identify specific factors that regulate communication between neuronal processes and glial cells. These studies will not only advance understanding of synaptic formation, but will establish a therapeutic strategy to protect and regenerate the injured CNS.

Additionally, Wilson is investigating the contribution of phosphodiesterase 4B to inflammation after traumatic brain injury. Although it is known from previous work at The Miami Project that inhibition of phosphodiesterase 4 by rolipram is an effective anti-inflammatory treatment for spinal cord injury, recent studies have highlighted the importance of clarifying which phosphodiesterase 4 family (A, B, C or D) is responsible for rolipram’s beneficial effects. Wilson found that phosphodiesterase 4B in particular is found in inflammatory cells after traumatic brain injury. Her project will determine whether phosphodiesterase 4B in inflammatory cells is important for inflammation and pathology in traumatic brain injury, and whether inhibition of phosphodiesterase 4B specifically is an anti-inflammatory treatment.

These studies are in collaboration with Tetra Discovery Partners. Atkins, Tetra and W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., Kinetic Concepts Distinguished Chair in Neurosurgery and Scientific Director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and David Joseph Adaikalasamy received a patent for a phosphodiesterase 4B inhibitor for traumatic brain injury. Wilson’s studies will push the clinical development of this drug even further.