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Kentucky Builds World Class SCI Program

Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center

By: Sam Maddox

Scott Whittemore, Ph.D., is scientific director for the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville. Since joining the faculty in 1998, coming over from the Miami Project, he has built the U of L SCI program into one of the top research campuses in the U.S. "When I came here they convinced me there were resources available; they gave me a free hand to build a world-class center," said Whittemore.

Indeed, funds for SCI research had become available starting in 1994 with the passage of Kentucky Spinal Cord and Head Injury Trust, funded by a portion of speeding ticket fines. The trust, originally administered by the American Paralysis Association (which became the Reeve Foundation), was created after 16-year-old Maggie Brooks was paralyzed in an auto accident. Her uncle, a state senator, pushed the legislation through. Whittemore’s program continues to get about $600,000 a year, as does the SCI program at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Whittemore said he was recruited to an endowed faculty position at the U of L, funded from a "Bucks for Brains" campaign, leveraging state funds with private donations.

Once aboard, Whittemore obtained large-scale federal support and set about to add key personnel -- in basic science, patient care and clinical research. A key hire was that of Susan Harkema, then at UCLA; her research and activity based clinical studies blossomed in Louisville. Said Whittemore, “Once we convinced Susie to come here, our entire center really began to take off."

The KSCIRC program continues to grow. Recent recruits include Steve Williams, M.D., formerly head of the SCI medicine at Boston Medical Center, now chief of the Division of Spinal Cord Medicine at U of L; Andrea Behrman, Ph.D., a co-director of the NeuroRecovery Network, who left the University of Florida; and Dena Howland, Ph.D., a basic spinal cord scientist also from the University of Florida.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders