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Pioneering Rehabilitation

BMRI Scientist Awarded Grants from Neilsen and Wings for Life Foundations

Published July 15, 2014

Jian Zhong, Ph.D., of the Burke Medical Research Institute has received major grants from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation.  Dr. Zhong is director of the Molecular Regeneration and Neuroimaging Laboratory at BMRI, where his research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of axon growth and regeneration.

The two-year $300,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and three-year €240,000 (~$330,000) grant from the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation will help support research on axon regeneration after spinal cord injury.  Dr. Zhong’s laboratory plans to investigate how modulating specific intracellular growth signals can encourage axon regeneration in the cortical spinal tract—the nerve fibers that connect the brain and the spinal cord.  Previous studies by his laboratory have demonstrated that activation of B-RAF signaling enables regenerative axon growth in the injured optic nerve and a synergistic effect with activation of PI3-kinase-mTOR signaling (via PTEN deletion). 

With the new grants, Dr. Zhong’s team will aim to test the effect of B-RAF and PI3-kinase-mTOR activation in various mouse models of cortical spinal tract injury.  They hope this work will provide a basis for future combinatorial approaches targeting multiple signaling pathways and inspire clinical advancements for spinal cord injury patients. 

The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, established in 2002, funds programs supporting spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.  The Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation, established in 2004 by former motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner and the founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, supports basic and clinical research into spinal cord injury.