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Message from the Scientific Leadership

The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and our multidisciplinary research programs continue to make significant progress in basic, translational and clinical investigations.  Scientific programs remain dedicated to discovering new treatments for people living with the detrimental consequences of spinal cord and brain injury. During the past year, The Miami Project and the Department of Neurological Surgery transplanted our final participant in the FDA approved Phase I trial, evaluating human Schwann cell transplantation in subacute and chronic spinal cord injured subjects. Published findings from the subacute trial showed safety, with the chronic trial expanding upon those positive results. We are now combining cell therapies with an intensive multimodal exercise and rehabilitation protocol to enhance functional outcomes and improve quality of life outcomes. In addition to SCI, the inclusion of Schwann cells with a new peripheral nerve bridging strategy has been recently approved by the FDA. This new approach to repairing traumatized peripheral nerves holds great promise in improving function and quality of life in severely injured patients.

New discoveries in other areas of neuroscience are also helping to clarify novel approaches to help protect and repair the injured nervous system. Clinical studies at The Miami Project are testing the benefits of different types of neural stimulation, including direct brain or peripheral stimulation, on spinal circuit reorganization and function. These types of investigative studies are helping to bring new technologies into the field of spinal cord injury and establishing new approaches to treat impaired motor and sensory function after SCI. For example, deep brain stimulation is currently being used by Miami Project investigators to treat neuropathic pain, which is a common consequence of SCI and important quality of life issue. The combination of biological treatments including cell therapies or growth promoting factors with state-of-the-art robotics and neuromodulation is a critical area for future research and discovery. To promote this innovative research initiative, members of our Neural Engineering Institute continue to develop new collaborations that complement our current reparative strategies and help advance new discoveries in the future. A new brain-machine interface strategy has been tested in a subject with a high cervical injury to improve upper limb function. Results thus far are encouraging and emphasize the need to combine new technologies with current therapeutic approaches to maximize success.

Our basic and translational research programs provide the knowledge required for future clinical programs as new discoveries are being made to clarify cellular and molecular mechanisms of cell death and axonal regeneration. Innovative screening strategies are identifying compounds and molecular targets that are being tested in clinically relevant models to protect injured tissues from progressive damage and promote circuit recovery. New knowledge on what factors may enhance or impede repair mechanisms after injury are also accelerating our discovery progress and identifying new therapeutics. Active collaborations with industry are also increasing our opportunities to evaluate new therapies. In addition to SCI, exciting discoveries are also being made in other models of neurological disease including traumatic brain injury, concussion, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Together these studies are providing the necessary knowledge for understanding how best to utilize combination treatments to maximize protection and recovery mechanisms after injury.

Our Educational Outreach and Training Programs continue to significantly contribute to the mission of The Miami Project. We are reaching out to individuals throughout the United States and abroad providing clinical information, resources, and news regarding progress in research and care. Over 3500 individuals living with SCI have volunteered to be in our research registry and in 2018 alone over 500 individuals participated in our active studies. A very successful Miami Project Open House was recently held that brought together scientists, consumers and family members to hear about research opportunities and answer questions. The new Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Institute for The Miami Project at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital will be completed in 2020 and will allow scientists and clinicians to evaluate and recruit individuals with acute, subacute, and chronic injuries into our active clinical studies and trials.

We greatly appreciate the critical support from our friends and colleagues that are helping to move these investigations forward. We especially thank our many consumers and volunteers who participate in our clinical studies that are so very important to our mission. The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis was established in 1985 to develop new therapies to improve function in paralyzed individuals. Our scientific community is excited about the future as we conduct cutting edge research to obtain the knowledge necessary to develop and test new treatments for individuals living with spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders.

W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D.
Scientific Director