2008 Workshop

Spinal Cord Injury: What Are The Barriers To Cure?

Hosted by the University of Georgia in partnership with the Shepherd Center.


The last few years have brought remarkable advances in stem cell research. For example, recent studies have shown that embryonic stem cells can be used to effectively treat acute spinal cord injury in rats. But how are these laboratory advances translated into human cures? Are there unanswered scientific questions? Are there unanswered clinical approach problems? Are there unanswered healthcare regulatory issues? Download Workshop Flier (pdf)


Many body injuries, such as broken bones and lacerated skin, heal because these tissues have a naturally occurring reservoir of stem cells in the body. When injury occurs, the stem cells become active, multiply, mature, and replace the damaged cells.

In sharp contrast, spinal cord injuries fail to heal – even in young people. There are many possible reasons, one of which is a lack of spinal cord stem cells, another may be the formation of scar tissue which prevents the cells from healing. For centuries, the prevailing medical dogma has been that spinal cord injury is incurable, and the resulting paralyses are inevitable and life long.

However, advances in stem cell science indicate that it may be possible to use stem cells to repair injured spinal cords. But not all experts agree that placing stem cells, even those differentiated into neuronal subtypes, at the site of injury, will result in repaired nerve function.

If not, why not? And what are the alternatives? What, exactly, are the treatment barriers to cure of spinal cord injury?

There is a divergence of opinion among neurologists, neurosurgeons and scientists about the safest and most effective method of clinical trial with stem cells. The design of clinical trials has been the topic of a series of meetings of the International Campaign for Cures of Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis (ICCP, Spinal Cord 45: 190-242, 2007). The divergence of opinions is appropriate because there are many important questions that remain unanswered. Therefore, continuing dialog among stem cell researchers, neurologists and neurosurgeons is necessary to identify, and solve the barriers to cure.


The goal of the 2008 Spinal Workshop is to bring together the three key areas: NeurosurgeryNeurology, and Basic Science to identify the remaining barriers to cure. By the end of this one-day workshop, the group will have produced a publishable list of the current barriers. The report from this workship will serve as guidelines for seeking the resources necessary to solve the problems identified.


This workshop is not designed to be a general exchange of ideas, but rather a clinical / basic science interchange to solve specific, targeted problems. During the morning session, the workshop’s faculty will present each of the major areas of research. During the afternoon session, the faculty will focus on summarizing and targeting the current barriers in each area. At the end of the day, all these presentations will culminate in a list of these barriers and discussion of next steps for moving the research forward.

Workshop Faculty

Hans Keirstead, PhD
Associate Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology, University of California at Irvine
Reeve-Irvine Research Center

Naomi Kleitman, PhD
Program Director, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health

Wise Young, MD, PhD
Professor and Chair, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Rutgers University
Director, W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience

Steven L. Stice, PhD
Professor, GRA Eminent Scholar
Director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center at University of Georgia
CSO, Aruna Biomedical Inc.

Jose Cibelli, DVM, PhD
Professor, Department of Animal Science & Department of Physiology, Michigan State University
Director, Cellular Reprogramming Laboratory

Ann A. Kiessling, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School
Director, Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation

Invited Panel of Experts

Scott Whittemore, PhD
Professor and Vice Chairman for Research, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Louisville
Henry D. Garretson Endowed Chair in Spinal Cord Injury Research
Scientific Director, Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center

Theodoor Hagg, PhD
Professor of Neurological Surgery, University of Louisville

Christopher Shields, MD, PhD
Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, University of Louisville

Ravi Bellamkonda, PhD
Professor, Wallace H. Coulter Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Professor

Peter Gorman, MD
Associate Professor of Neurology, University of Maryland Medical Center
Director, Spinal Cord Injury Service, Kernan Hospital and Baltimore VA Medical Center

Douglas Kerr, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Neurology, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Director of the Johns Hopkins Transverse Myelitis Center