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Spinal Cord Injury Research Program gets new director, increased funding

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John Fougere

Chief Communications Officer

University Relations

Jul 13, 2012

Andrew McClellan, Ph.D., has been appointed director of the Spinal Cord Injuries and Congenital or Acquired Disease Processes Research Program.  The program, recently expanded by the legislature, was established by the state in 2001 to support research in Missouri that will advance scientific knowledge in the area of spinal cord injuries and congenital or acquired disease processes.

McClellan, who was appointed by University of Missouri System Vice President for Research and Economic Development Mike Nichols, assumed his post on July 1. He has a vested interest in spinal cord injury research.  As a professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a long-term goal of his research program is to understand how neural networks in the nervous system produce locomotion behavior.  In addition, his laboratory has identified some of the key cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to successful neural regeneration and behavioral recovery following spinal cord injury.  

About five years ago, McClellan received a two-year grant from the spinal cord research program.  His work focused on chemical factors that regulate the growth of axon-like processes of cultured lamprey brain neurons, which normally regenerate their processes following spinal cord injury.

“Having been engaged in spinal cord injury research since 1985, I am excited about becoming the new director of this program,” McClellan said. “I hope to increase the number of laboratories involved in spinal cord injury research in the state of Missouri, and as a result, this will contribute to finding cures for SCI, promote better health care for SCI patients in our state and increase the visibility of our program nationally.”

Due to the passage of increased funding authorization by the Missouri General Assembly, McClellan will now coordinate the distribution of $1.5 million, up from $625,000 in 2011.  The additional funds will allow awards for more proposals from research institutions across the state, thus enhancing the attractiveness of the program in a competitive funding arena.  The increase was approved by the governor on June 22 and applies to the fiscal year that began July 1.

"The long-term goals of the program are, in part, to increase the emphasis on spinal cord injury research in the state of Missouri and increase the visibility of our program nationally,” Nichols said. “With the recent increase in funding levels for our grants and the many excellent research institutes in our state, we have the potential to accomplish those goals."

This new increase will make larger-scale studies more feasible.  Now, researchers can receive up to $250,000 per year for one to two years.  The program previously granted researchers no more than $50,000 per year—also up to two years—to collect preliminary data and prepare strong applications for long-term grant funding from other sources.

Funding for the program comes from the state’s Spinal Cord Injury Fund, which is supported primarily by fines for intoxication-related offenses that occur in Missouri.

A major purpose of the grants is to encourage young investigators and those new to the field to do exploratory research and test new ideas, with the expectation that the most promising will eventually receive more substantial support from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.  

Approximately 256,000 people in the United States live with a traumatic spinal cord injury or dysfunction, and there are nearly 12,000 new cases every year.  MU’s Department of Health Psychology has estimated that alcohol was a factor in at least 12.5 percent of spinal cord injuries in Missouri.

Congenital spinal cord conditions include birth defects, such as spina bifida.  Acquired spinal cord conditions include hereditary diseases, such as Friedreich’s ataxia, and paralysis due to diseases such as multiple sclerosis or polio.

The inaugural director of the spinal cord research program was the late Armon F. Yanders, Ph.D.  He served from 2001 until May 2012.

For a high resolution photo of McClellan, please visit: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7259/7557278954_b8190655ef_o.jpg