A giant step
W.M. Keck Center is working to cure spinal cord injuries
Archived article from Nov 12, 1999
By Joseph Blumberg
The Spinal Cord Injury Project has a new home at Rutgers. Dedication ceremonies were held Nov. 5 for the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience.
President Francis L. Lawrence spoke to the ceremony's more than 250 attendees. "I know that when Christopher Reeve walks again, it will start with small steps," he said, referring to the actor paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident. "The scientific progress we make here in this center and elsewhere to make that miracle happen will likely be composed of small steps as well. But here today, thanks to the generosity of the W.M. Keck Foundation, we are taking a giant step down the road toward a cure for spinal cord injuries."
The new research facility is housed in 10,000 square feet of space on the second floor of Nelson Biological Laboratories on the Busch campus. In February, the W.M. Keck Foundation provided a $2.1 million grant toward the $3.2 million construction costs. The foundation, one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, was begun in 1954 by the late W.M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company.
"Mr. Keck was a wildcat oilman in Texas, Louisiana and other states in the first half of this century," said Roxanne Ford, project director for the W.M. Keck Foundation. "He was successful because he developed new drilling techniques that allowed him to search for oil in locations previously considered unreachable. It is that spirit of reaching for the unreachable that his foundation strives to keep alive today. And it is that spirit and the forefront and innovative science being performed in this lab and all its collaborative partner labs that caught our directors' attention."
Finding a cure
The Spinal Cord Injury Project is the first focus of the new center. "Every 49 minutes another person in the United States sustains a spinal cord injury, joining more than 250,000 injured and their families who live daily with this tragedy," said center director Wise Young, the driving force behind the project.
Paralysis caused by damage to the spinal cord was once thought to be a permanent and incurable condition. Today, the dream of therapies that restore function and feeling is becoming a reality, and Young is a leader in the search for cures.
Recognized as one of the world's outstanding neuroscientists, Young was part of the team at New York University that discovered and established high-dose methylprednisolone as the first effective therapy for spinal cord injuries. The 1990 work refocused research efforts and opened new vistas of hope.
Christopher Reeve is an ardent supporter of Wise Young and the center's research initiatives. While unable to come to the dedication, Reeve did send a letter that was read at the ceremony. In part, he said, "This center is unique in its concept and design -- it is built for and dedicated to collaboration. By building this facility, you have taken an important step in making hope a reality."
Young is quick to point out that he and his staff are focused on the needs of patients. Through the center's collaborative and intensive approach, he pursues his mission with what he calls "compassionate science." Guiding this quest for cures is a series of defining principles that has driven the design of the center, the conduct of its research and the way students are taught.
The key, he insists, is collaboration that emphasizes a cooperative spirit of working together toward a common goal for the common good. The researchers seek realistic approaches, concentrating on those options that have the greatest potential for success. Openness and accessibility are also priorities. The center is committed to sharing its findings widely and freely with colleagues, and its facilities and technical expertise will be open to all.
Research at the center is proceeding on several tracks including cell transplants, cellular adhesion molecule development, gene therapy and the use of drugs to develop therapies for people who have
Page 1 of 2