Aileen Anderson, Ph.D.
University of California, Irvine, California
The Anderson laboratory at the University of California Irvine (UCI) pursues two research paths in its study of spinal cord injury (SCI) and repair. Degeneration and regeneration are intertwined in both their impact on, and possible benefits to, improved functional recovery after injury to the brain and spinal cord. Consequently, efforts to repair the damage done by SCI must address both of these processes.
In her first approach to her research, Dr. Anderson and her team are exploring the role played by inflammation in degeneration and regeneration and the interactions of inflammatory mechanisms with these two processes.
The complement system helps to clear pathogens from an organism. In spite of the fact that it is an important effector for many inflammatory mechanisms, scant attention has been paid to exploring complement's role after spinal cord injury.
Now the Anderson team has shown that all complement pathways are activated after spinal cord injury and she has defined important aspects of this phenomenon (for example, cellular localization and time course) in the mouse and rat. The translational aspect of this line of investigation is that studies exploring the effects of complement inhibitors on histological and functional outcome after contusion spinal cord injury indicate that this approach may well be a path forward toward potential therapeutics.
The second research approach taken by the Anderson lab is exploration of the role of human stem cells to ameliorate the loss of function that accompanies injury and the role of these cells in promoting recovery.
Specifically her lab works with human central nervous system stem cells (hCNS-SC) which are "neural committed", that is, they will become predominately neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. These cells also migrate extensively after being transplanted into the uninjured brain, both fetal and adult. Anderson's studies have shown that NOD-Scid mice (animals which are immunodeficient) have a greatly reduced rejection of transplanted human-to-mouse cells. They also show that transplantation of hCNS-SC into contused NOD-Scid mice results in functional recovery.
Based on these preclinical studies to treat the neuron loss and deterioration of myelin that result from SCI, a Phase I/II clinical trial was begun in March 2011 at Balgrist University Hospital, University of Zurich. By design, the study is assessing both safety and effectiveness in subjects who are between three and 12 months post-injury.
Aileen Anderson was an Associate in one of the original Consortium laboratories and in 2001, in parallel with setting up her own laboratory she agreed to become the scientific director of the Foundation's Animal Core Laboratory at UCI. The Core is a shared resource that facilitates research in animal models of SCI by individual Consortium laboratories, collaborative experiments involving two or more Consortium laboratories and the training of Consortium Associates and their transition to positions as independent investigators. Dr. Anderson became a Consortium Principal Investigator as of January 2013 and will continue to head the Core lab.