Postgraduate Profiles

Sarah Lovett

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Thesis: Immunomodulation to enhance improved functional recovery after spinal cord injury using transplanted human mesenchymal precursor cells in combinatorial therapies

Our existing studies have shown that human mesenchymal precursor cells (hMPCs) isolated from the bone marrow can markedly improve functional (locomotor) recovery and promote tissue sparing in rat models of spinal cord injury. We aim to enhance these improvements by modifying the host immune response in order to (i) reduce secondary inflammatory damage immediately following injury and (ii) increase the survival of hMPCs following transplantation into the rat spinal cord.

Why my research is important

In Australia there are hundreds of new cases of SCI each year with thousands of ongoing cases, many of whom require continuing care and management of the injury. Following SCI, patients experience a loss of sensory and motor function below the injury site with the severity of the injury dependent on the location and the extent of damage that occurs. Patients can have problems with upper and lower limb movement and coordination, respiration and bowel and bladder function, and as a result may need to rely heavily on family members or carers.

Although some spontaneous regeneration of spinal cord axons can occur after injury it is often very limited and is not effective enough to provide functional recovery. The majority of current SCI treatments focus on stabilising the initial injury, preventing further secondary damage occurring and managing the long-term effects of SCI with rehabilitation, pain relief and prevention of further injury-related complications. Experimental therapies that promote even partial restoration of damage spinal cord tracts could result in major improvements in upper and lower limb function, increasing the patient’s independence and reducing the reliance of carers.