Dr. Kerr is an Associate Professor of Neurology with a joint appointment in the Department of Molecular
Microbiology and Immunology; and Cellular and Molecular Medicine. He specializes in transverse myelitis and multiple sclerosis. Dr. Kerr has established the Johns Hopkins Transverse Myelitis Center which is
the only such center in the entire world. The center utilizes the expertise of physicians and therapists from a variety of disciplines including neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, rheumatology, rehabilitation medicine and urology for a comprehensive evaluation of transverse myelitis.
Dr. Kerr also has research interest in determining the cause(s) of transverse myelitis, evaluating novel markers to help prognosticate outcomes in the acute phase, and in developing novel treatments. Dr. Kerr also investigates neural stem cells as a potential tool for functional recovery in patients with transverse myelitis and motor neuron disease. He has made significant discoveries concerning the basic molecular biology of neuronal apoptosis, especially in motor neurons of the spinal cord.
Dr. Kerr’s laboratory research focuses on models of neuronal injury in the spinal cord. Using genetic and viral induced models of motoneuron injury, his laboratory has found that though there is an intrinsic abnormality within neurons, this abnormality is insufficient to induce death of that neuron. Rather, the surrounding astrocytes and microgial cells become deranged and “kill” the “at-risk” neuron. His research laboratory is now focused on elucidating the pathways involved in this killing. These findings are relevant to viral induced diseases of the CNS and to human motor neuron diseases such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and SMA (spinal muscular atrophy).
Additionally, these models are utilized to examine the possibility of neuroregeneration. By transplanting a variety of human and mouse stem cells into the spinal cord, a partial restoration of function can be facilitated. The mechanisms underlying this functional recovery are varied and not completely understood. Dr. Kerr has also been interested in the endogenous response of spinal cord neural stem cells to paralysis. Interestingly, adult spinal cords DO have stem cells. Following viral-induced paralysis, they proliferate, presumably in an attempt to repopulate the spinal cord with those cells that just recently died. But it doesn’t happen: no new neurons are formed, and instead, the proliferating stem cells become shunted toward a glial fate. It is important to understand why these cells get “pushed” toward becoming glia and by modulating the fate specification of endogenous stem cells, perhaps the spinal cord can regenerate its own neurons rather than having to transplant them! This analysis will shed light on inherent biology of the spinal cord, and may have applications to human spinal cord diseases.
Dr. Kerr also directs The Johns Hopkins Project RESTORE, a multidisciplinary research and clinical collaboration emerging from The Johns Hopkins Transverse Myelitis and Multiple Sclerosis Centers to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in the treatment of neuroimmunologic disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and transverse myelitis (TM). Project RESTORE has three principle goals: to recover from acute attacks and illness; to stop progression of disease and disability; and to regenerate nerve cells and myelin.