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February 18, 2016
MILWAUKEE — Dr. Murray Blackmore, assistant professor of biomedical sciences in Marquette University's College of Health Sciences, has been awarded a $415,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Blackmore's lab is studying the use of gene therapy involving cancer genes to treat spinal cord injury.
A key to the treatment of spinal cord injury and paralysis is promoting axonal nerve growth at the injury site. If researchers can promote the growth and connectivity of these axons past the site of injury, the mechanism for regained movement and motor control may be established in people with spinal cord damage.
"We know there are a dozen different genes that impact axon growth," Blackmore said. "What we realized is that eleven of those were being studied as cancer genes. Since the axon growth field is already working on cancer genes, our lab can do it systematically in order to identify the strongest gene candidates to promote axonal growth."
Blackmore's lab uses advanced microscope technology to systematically test large numbers of genes using a high-throughput approach. Much of the technological development for this research has been funded by seed grants – smaller gifts used to purchase equipment that makes it possible to pursue funding for larger, more comprehensive projects. Recently Blackmore received seed funding from the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation. Its founder and president, Bryon Riesch, was paralyzed in an accident as an undergraduate student at Marquette nearly 20 years ago.
"We are proud to have provided Dr. Blackmore the seed money that has helped lead to further funding from the NIH," said Riesch. "His success is external validation that his ideas and work may eventually lead to potential treatment for individuals suffering from paralysis."
"Dr. Blackmore has three active grants from the NIH, and his lab is at the leading edge of spinal cord injury research," said Dr. William E. Cullinan, professor and dean of the College of Health Sciences at Marquette and director of Marquette's Integrative Neuroscience Research Center. "This important work and exciting could lay the groundwork for an entirely new class of spinal cord injury treatments."
"We're mining cancer research to discover the mechanisms of neural repair," Blackmore said. "An enormous investment has already been made in studying cancer genes, it only makes sense to take that knowledge and apply it where we can."
Both Dr. Blackmore and Bryon Riesch are available for media interviews. To schedule an interview, please contact Jesse Lee, senior communication specialist for the College of Health Sciences, at (414) 288-4984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.