UAMS Opens Facility Dedicated to Advancing New Treatments

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – Laboratories dedicated to advancing new medical treatments opened today at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).


The Center for Translational Neuroscience is one of the few facilities in the nation devoted to quickly moving new treatments from research to the patient. The complex of 12 labs, equipment and administrative offices will serve as the research arm of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.


The new center is on the sixth floor of the Biomedical Research II building at UAMS. It is funded in part by a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health obtained with the help of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.


A ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by UAMS officials and supporters, marked the event for the center and its 12 faculty members and about 20 technicians, administrators and students.


The center aids the transition of scientific research into new medical treatments for conditions of the body’s nervous system. Current research projects, funded by grants worth more than $11 million, address a range of conditions, including spinal cord injuries, motion sickness, neonatal pain and schizophrenia.


“The UAMS Center for Translational Neuroscience provides an important link between basic and clinical science that will benefit patients by spurring the development of new medical treatments,” said UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D. “In addition, the center’s wide-ranging work provides a potential economic benefit for Arkansas as new businesses are created to market the treatments developed in these laboratories.”


The CTN was established in 2003 as a division of the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences of the UAMS College of Medicine by Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology and developmental sciences and the center’s director. 

“We want to bridge the gap between basic neuroscience and clinical applications in a way that moves research along and gets new treatments to patients more quickly,” Garcia-Rill said. “These new laboratories allow for more collaborative research and easier access to high-powered electrophysiology, microscopy and other tools critical to our work.”


The National Center for Research Resources at the NIH awarded a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant to operate the Center for Translational Neuroscience.

Ongoing research projects at the Center for Translational Neuroscience include:


  • Whether the brain may be a factor in vertigo and tinnitus (a ringing in the ears), by researchers John Dornhoffer, M.D., and Chris Danner, M.D.
  • Whether the brain may generate signals leading to chronic back pain following an injury, by researchers Alice V. Fann, M.D., and Richard Owen, M.D.
  • Whether a new therapy can help with the long-term effects of neonatal pain, by researchers Sunny Anand, M.D., and Whit Hall, M.D.
  • Whether new treatments can help patients with spinal cord injuries walk and reduce side effects of those injuries, by researchers Thomas Kiser, M.D., T. Glenn Pait, M.D., Robert D. Skinner, Ph.D., and Nancy B. Reese, Ph.D.
  • Identifying mechanisms that can regulate the development and destruction of nerve cells, by researcher Melanie MacNicol, Ph.D. and Gwen Childs, Ph.D.


Earlier this year, Garcia-Rill led a team that invented a motorized bicycle exercise trainer to combat muscle atrophy along with the uncontrolled muscle contractions and spasms suffered by those with spinal cord injuries. In May, UAMS signed a licensing agreement with a Siloam Springs company, Ozark Systems Manufacturing, to manufacture the exercise trainer.


The center has attracted established scientists involved in grant-funded research. Mark Mennemeier, Ph.D., a NIH-funded authority on a disabling neurological condition that sometimes follows a stroke is developing a novel treatment that eliminates so-called spatial neglect in certain patients. Elie Al-Chaer, Ph.D., an authority on irritable bowel syndrome, is looking at a mechanism that suggests the condition is caused by erroneous messages from a pain processing region of the brain.


In addition, Yi-Hong Zhou, Ph.D., another of the center’s researchers, is working on developing a model to predict the outcome after certain brain tumors (glioblastomas). She has received a pilot study award from the CTN.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.3 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.