Louisville, Ky. — The United States Department of Defense (DoD) awarded the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation a $5.4 million grant to support the expansion of translational research to find treatments for military men and women with spinal cord injuries, the Foundation announced Tuesday. The DoD gave the two-year grant to the Foundation’s North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN), an international network of centers of which the University of Louisville is part. Over the past three years, the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center and the UofL Department of Neurological Surgery have received $567,030 from the Reeve Foundation for the NACTN work.
NACTN gathers and documents patient medical information in a data registry to better understand the body’s natural course of recovery after injury; uses standardized patient assessment protocols and develops new ones; and conducts new trials of therapy for spinal cord injury.
“We’re thrilled to be part of NACTN and the important work the network is doing to find better treatments and possibly even cures for patients with spinal cord injuries,” said Susan Harkema, Ph.D., associate professor in the UofL Department of Neurological Surgery, director of research at Frazier Rehabilitation Institute, rehabilitation research director at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at UofL and Owsley B. Frazier Chair in Neurological Rehabilitation. “The support of the Reeve Foundation is helping us make speedier progress in the fight against the devastation caused by these injuries and we are profoundly grateful to the Foundation for helping us work toward our shared goal, which is to dramatically improve the lives of these patients.”
NACTN recently began its first clinical trial, a Phase I safety study of Riluzole, a neuroprotective drug that is the only FDA-approved drug used in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where it prolongs the life spans of patients. Riluzole acts by blocking the ability of sodium and calcium ions to enter and damage neurons and glia. Laboratory studies have shown it to also be effective in limiting traumatic damage to the spinal cord. If no safety or toxicity issues emerge during the Phase I study, a Phase II study of a larger number of patients will be undertaken as an efficacy trial.
NACTN, launched by the Reeve Foundation in 2006, includes nine clinical sites, a data management center and a pharmacology center. In addition to the University of Louisville, NACTN sites include the Methodist Neurological Institute, Houston, TX; Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA; University of Maryland Medical System, Baltimore, MD; University of Miami, Miami, FL; University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX; University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC. The data management and biostatistical center is in a separate location at the School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and the pharmacology center is located at the College of Pharmacy, University of Houston.
The Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at UofL opened in 2001 and is led by scientific director Scott Whittemore, PhD. The Center is one of about a dozen spinal cord injury research centers in the United States. The Center’s mission is to develop successful spinal cord repair strategies in the laboratory that can be taken to the clinic in a timely and responsible fashion.