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Neuroscientists Gather at Neuroscience 2008

December 2008 --Miami Project researchers were among more than 31,000 scientists from all around the world to attend the 38th annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience. This gathering of neuroscience professionals provides a forum for learning, information exchange and professional development. More than 26 faculty, postdoctoral associates and graduate students from The Miami Project presented their research findings at Neuroscience 2008 that took place November 15–19, 2008 in Washington, DC.


The Miami Project’s scientific abstracts – five formal slide presentations and 21 poster presentations – reflect the wide range of research specialties that comprise The Miami Project and are needed to answer the challenges of spinal cord injury. It’s at meetings such as Neuroscience 2008 that our investigators talk about and debate their research findings, and get ideas that might lead to scientific breakthroughs.


Many of The Miami Project’s presentations were given by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who work under the mentorship of Miami Project principal investigators. This very important part of their training gives young investigators the experience of discussing and defending the results of their scientific projects. 


Among the scores of excellent presentations was one by Juan Pablo de Rivero Vaccari, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Drs. Dalton Dietrich and Robert Keane. These investigators were the first to discover that neurons in the brain and spinal cord express a specific protein complex known as an inflammasome. In a recent study, they showed that the neuronal inflammasome activates caspase 1 and other processes that lead to detrimental inflammation after central nervous system (CNS) injury. When the investigators gave spinal injured rats a treatment to neutralize inflammasome activation, the detrimental inflammatory cytokines and the size of the spinal cord lesion were reduced and the rats had improved motor function. These findings suggest that inhibiting inflammasome activity may offer a promising therapy to reduce inflammation after CNS injury and improve recovery.


In another presentation, Lanitia Ness, a doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Edelle Field-Fote, described the results of a clinical study entitled, “ Effects of whole-body vibration on spinal reflex activity and walking function in individuals with chronic, motor incomplete spinal cord injury.” In this study, she administered 12 sessions of whole-body vibration over a 4-week period to a group of people with incomplete spinal cord injury. Vibration has been shown to modulate spinal reflex activity. Increased reflex activity in people with spinal cord injury may contribute to spasticity. Following the treatment, the researchers saw decreases in the volunteer’s lower extremity spasticity and improvements in their walking speed, which suggests that whole-body vibration may be a useful intervention to complement walking training in people with incomplete injury.  Ms. Ness has since completed requirements for her doctoral degree and was awarded a Ph.D. for this work. Dr. Ness will soon leave The Miami Project to continue her research as a postdoctoral associate at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.





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