A spinal cord injury can cause lifelong paralysis — no regular treatment is available, although a researcher at the University of Wyoming is working to find a solution with the help of a new laboratory.
Jared Bushman, assistant professor at the School of Pharmacy, came to UW in 2014 with a mission and a couple grants.
“I work on spinal care injuries and regeneration of peripheral nerves,” he explained.
With about $500,000 in grant funding from various agencies, including the Department of Defense, he has the ability to do his work, and now he has the facility.
“When I came here, it became apparent the lab space wasn’t equipped to do the types of research I needed,” he said.
So, with help from the ALSAM Foundation — created by the Skagg family to support education and health research — the school set about creating a top-notch lab, said Kem Krueger, associate dean of the School of Pharmacy.
“The money the foundation provided has given us a nice boost in creating the infrastructure to be successful,” he said. “The lab’s importance cannot be overstated — (Bushman) could not do his research in the lab before it was remodeled.”
The lab, split into four parts, provides needed instruments and a safe place to perform important tests, Bushman said.
“We do animal research where we have therapies we developed, and we have hypothesis about them, and we need to test them to see if they work in these animal models,” he said. “The suite we have is very well equipped to conduct all of the animal experience in a highly controlled and reproducible manner, and I think it’s easier on the animals.”
Bushman is working on two major projects. After a combined four years of work at his previous job at Rutgers University and continued at UW, one project is ready for the patent office. Although he cannot disclose many details, it deals with regenerating peripheral nerves through transplants, similar to replacing a kidney or liver.
The body’s natural response to transplants is to attack the invading tissue and eliminate it, but Bushman’s work is meant to stop or stem these attacks.
His other research is focused on spinal cord injuries.
“The spinal cord injury is a different beast,” he explained. “We’re not as far along with that one.”
The research is more focused on creating a drug that mimics sugar molecules in the body that are important in the regenerative process of nerve tissue.
While it is not the only ongoing work to fix spinal injuries, it is rather novel in the field, Bushman said.
“I’m coming fairly late to the game, but I’m looking at it from the sugar aspect,” he said. “Most have gone other routes, but there are some truly exciting elements for spinal cord injuries in clinical trials. So, what I am trying to do is develop strategies that could be co-applied.”
This sort of research is important to the College of Health Sciences as a whole, Dean Joe Steiner said.
“There’s going to be some great discoveries being made and very applicable to transition over to clinical situations where you can provide some benefits to people having problems with (their) central nervous system or peripheral nervous system,” he said. “It’s great — he’s moving us forward on the knowledge we have in those areas and, hopefully, he’ll continue to be successful.”
Real-world application has always been Bushman’s goal since he attended a Department of Defense conference to explain his research. One military speaker made clear that work toward curiosity was not worth the effort.
“He was funny and said, ‘You guys sure love your graphs. You seem to do a lot of things with rats and mice and things like that, but I want you to know something. You guys look at your graphs and you see your rat for its injured foot or burned flesh. I see my friends and my fellow soldiers. So, I look at your graphs and your progress and I immediately put a human face on the research you’re doing,’” Bushman said.
“I take comfort in the fact that we are not working on elements of curiosity — we are trying to develop cures and treatments for people’s lives,” he continued.
By THADDEUS MAST