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​Craig research looks at bone health following SCI, motor recovery due to dental pulp stem cell therapy

January 13, 2017

Craig Hospital’s significant and growing research accomplishments rest on the foundation of highly trained clinical staff and physician guidance.

In April 2016, Dr. Leslie Morse was hired as the Medical Director of Research at Craig Hospital to replace Dr. Dan Lammertse who retired in September. Dr. Morse came to Craig from Boston where she served as the Project Director for the Spaulding Harvard SCI Model System and the Associate Director of Research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. A physiatrist by training, her research and clinical focus is the care of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI), with an emphasis on bone health and stem cell-based therapies to treat neurological injury.

Dr. Morse and her team are developing a new research focus in dental pulp stem cell therapy for motor recovery after SCI. Dental pulp stem cells are derived from any healthy teeth: discarded baby teeth, extracted wisdom teeth, or potentially during a root canal procedure. Dr. Morse’s research team has developed a biorepository of cryopreserved cells and is studying their potential to improve neurological outcomes after SCI in rats. She hopes to move to clinical trials to determine safety and feasibility of developing this as a treatment from neurological injury in the future. To this end, she has developed protocols for pulp isolation, dental pulp stem cell culture and neuro-induction of stem cells, as well as protocols for cell characterization. Pilot studies optimizing cell transplantation technique have been completed that demonstrate significant neurorecovery in rats with contusion SCI.

Additionally, Dr. Morse brings to Craig two funded research projects that are building knowledge and pushing boundaries in the field of neuroregenerative rehabilitation. Two relate to treating osteoporosis in the SCI population. Immobilization after SCI is associated with bone loss that leads to an increase likelihood of fractures in people with SCI.

“More than 50 percent of those with complete SCI will fracture at some point following their injury,” says Morse. “Osteoporotic fractures can be catastrophic—they limit mobility, worsen disability, and predispose the individual to additional medical complications including pressure ulcers, osteomyelitis at the fracture site, lower extremity amputation, and increased mortality.”

Despite the seriousness of fractures in SCI, there are no validated or recognized standards of care to prevent or treat SCI-induced osteoporosis.

Dr. Morse is conducting a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to determine the osteogenic benefits of statins in acute SCI. The trial’s hypothesis is that a one-year course of simvastatin will prevent bone loss in the first year following SCI, as well as promote neurological recovery or reduce neuropathic pain following acute SCI.

A separate randomized, controlled clinical trial is exploring the skeletal benefits of exoskeleton-assisted ambulation. The hypothesis is that reintroduction of ambulation will improve quality of life due to associated improvements in mood, pain and functional connectivity of emotional networks in the brain. The study will also determine whether exoskeleton-assisted gait training increases bone strength in the paralyzed lower extremity.

Dr. Morse’s position and expertise bring scientific research, which includes stem cell studies, within the walls of Craig for the first time. The Craig Foundation is raising an initial $3 million to endow the Medical Director of Research position and support Dr. Morse’s vision for Craig’s leadership in neuroregenerative rehabilitation research.

“Craig is regarded world-wide as a leader in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation,” says Morse. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to connect the best clinicians in the world with scientists like myself. Together, our shared goals to give people with spinal cord and brain injury the best life possible means that we will impact them today and in the future.”

For more information about how to support Craig’s Research Endowment, call the Craig Foundation at 303-789-8650.