The 2009 Reeve-Irvine Research Medal
was awarded last week to Elzbieta Jankowska (pictured left), Professor emeritus at the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Goteborg, Goteborg Sweden and to Marion Murray (pictured right), Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They were honored for their “pioneering studies on the structure, function and plasticity of spinal cord curcuits.”
The presentation was made at a symposium in Dana Point, CA sponsored by the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, with support from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The symposium, Spinal interneuronal networks: development, organization, plasticity and targeting for rehabilitation of motor functions, was a Who’s Who of scientists in the field. In addition to the two medalists, presenters included Sten Grillner, Martyn Goulding, Serge Rossignol, Susan Harkema, James Fawcett and V. Reggie Edgerton.
The Reeve-Irvine Research Medal recognizes an individual, or individuals, who have made highly meritorious scientific contributions in the area of spinal cord repair, and whose research has stood the test of time and scrutiny. The medal includes a $50,000 cash award provided by Joan Irvine Smith and the Athalie R. Clarke Foundation. Between 1996 and 2007 seventeen exceptional researchers have received this prestigious award.
Past winners include several members of the Reeve Foundation Science Advisory Council or of the Foundation’s International Research Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury, including Martin Schwab,1996; Fred Gage, 1997; Reggie Edgerton, 1999; Albert Aguayo, 2000; Mary Bunge, 2001; James Fawcett and Jerry Silver, 2003; Carl Cotman, 2005.
The 2008 Reeve-Irvine Research Medal was awarded to Susan Harkema, principal investigator for the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network, and Hugues Barbeau for their accomplishments in the clinical translation of locomotor training using body-weight supported systems for individuals living with spinal cord injuries.
Joan Irvine Smith played a lead roll in the establishment of what is now the University of California at Irvine. Following Christopher Reeve’s injury, she worked with UC Irvine to establish a spinal cord injury research center in Christopher’s name, starting with her lead gift of one million dollars.
In 1996, the Reeve-Irvine Research Center and Joan Irvine Smith established an annual award for research in spinal cord injury. The award, originally called the “Christopher Reeve Research Medal”, with Christopher’s blessing became the “Reeve-Irvine Research Medal” in 2003.
Dr. Jankowska is an expert in spinal cord physiology, especially organization of interneuronal circuitry in the spinal cord. Her research has elucidated the role of interneurons in spinal reflex pathways and in integrating the commands from descending motor pathways including the corticospinal, rubrospinal and reticulospinal systems. Her studies have shed much light on how spinal circuitry actually works to control the coordinated activity of muscles.
Dr. Jankowska obtained her Ph.D. degree at Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Warsaw, Poland. She continued postgraduate studies at the Institut Marey in Paris, at Faculte de Medicine in Toulouse (France) and in the Dept. of Physiology University of Göteborg (Sweden).
Dr. Jankowska’s work has been supported by research grants from the Swedish Medical Research Council and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States, the latest of which is funded through 2013. Funding by the NIH is a high honor, because projects outside the United States are funded by the NIH only under exceptional circumstances. She has published 202 original research papers and review articles, and her work continues to be highly cited in the field.
The focus of Dr. Murray’s career has been on neuroplasticity and its relation to recovery of function after CNS injury. The goal is to identify translatable therapies that can improve the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury. She has used a variety of animal models, including goldfish, rodents, and cats, to study the role of axonal regeneration and sprouting, neuroprotection, and activity in restoration of function lost through injury. Anatomical studies have shown that collateral sprouting occurs spontaneously in response to injury and that both sprouting and regeneration can be elicited by therapeutic cellular transplants.
Dr. Murray did her postdoctoral work at McGill University in Anatomy and at the Rockefeller University in Neurobiology. She was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Chicago and then moved to the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Drexel University College of Medicine). In Philadelphia, she and her colleague Michael Goldberger set out to forge an interactive group of colleagues and collaborators focused on mechanisms of recovery of function following spinal injury. This group has been funded continuously by an NIH Program Project Grant since 1988. Drexel University College of Medicine created a Spinal Cord Research Center in recognition of their success.
In 2005, Dr. Murray was appointed the Scientific Director of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. This Foundation provides funding for the search for treatments for spinal cord injury and recovery of function at the basic, preclinical and clinical levels. This significant resource provides both an opportunity and a challenge to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic and to make a difference in the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury.