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NIH EUREKA grant awarded to University of Miami scientist

CORAL GABLES, FL (September 16, 2008)- A team of scientists headed by neuroscientist Dr. Akira Chiba has been awarded the first ever EUREKA grant by the National Institute of Health (NIH), to develop a technique that can lead to a new treatment for spinal cord injury. Dr. Chiba, a professor at the University of Miami's Department of Biology, and his collaborators plan to use a novel and groundbreaking process to enhance synapse formation or nerve regeneration.

Dr. Chiba's project focuses on developing nerve connectivity by applying tension to individual neurons. A collaborative work between Dr. Chiba and scientists at the University of Illinois yielded evidence that a mechanical force applied to nascent nerve synapses, or injured embryonic nerve cells initiates, enhances and repairs their connectivity.

"This FORCE (force orchestrated retrograde synaptic enhancement) mechanism is likely based on a property of cells conserved through evolution and, thus, has the potential to be applied widely, including in the field of regenerative medicine," said Chiba. "A Holy Grail of regenerative neuromedicine is spinal cord repair," he said. "It would be rash to predict that our project will solve the problem, but perhaps we can make a significant contribution to the solution."

The project is a multi-disciplinary effort that combines genetics, bioengineering, computational bioinformatics and nanotechnology. If successful, the research will introduce a new concept in the regeneration of central nervous system neurons after injury.

Dr. Chiba's study is one of 38 research projects that will be funded by the $42.2 million grant. Each will receive direct costs of approximately $200,000 per year for up to four years, in support of projects that could have an extraordinary influence on many areas of science.

"The EUREKA Program is a new effort from the National Institutes of Health specifically for exceptionally innovative projects that could have a major impact on biomedical research," said Edmund M. Talley, Ph.D., program director for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. "In the case of Dr.Chiba's team, if they are able to prove the importance of mechanical force in re-growing connections between neurons, and if they are able to determine the molecular events underlying this phenomenon, it could change our understanding of how brain injuries might be repaired," he said.

"Even though it would be just one piece in a giant puzzle, it could be key to developing therapies that would enhance the lives of millions of people worldwide."


Contact: Marie Guma-Diaz
University of Miami

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