The newly founded Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)-Harvard Medical School (HMS) Center for Nervous System Repair (CNSR) is a new research endeavor of both MGH and HMS that brings together investigators with common interests in central nervous system repair, targeted at translating this work into benefit for patients over the coming decades. Dr. Jeffrey D. Macklis of Harvard Medical School was selected as the founding Director. Newly renovated and customized space was completed in January 2003, after 15 months of architectural design and construction. The MGH-HMS Center for Nervous System Repair occupies newly renovated and architecturally integrated space of the Nayef Al-Rodhan Laboratories for Cellular Neurosurgery and the Pappas Center for Neuroscience at MGH.
This inter-departmental endeavor is centered in the Department of Neurosurgery at MGH, in the Edwards and Their buildings on the main MGH campus. Dr. Robert Martuza (MGH Chief of Neurosurgery), Dr. Joseph Martin (HMS Dean), Dr. James Mongan (former President of MGH), and Dr. Anne Young (MGH Chief of Neurology) were instrumental in the formation of the Center. Dr. Macklis is appointed in Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Neuroscience at MGH and Harvard Medical School, and is the Program Head for the Neuroscience/Nervous Systems Diseases Program of the Harvard University-wide Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Center faculty are appointed in the most appropriate MGH and HMS basic science and clinical departments. Infrastructure and administrative support provided by the Nestar Foundation, complemented and supplemented by institutional funds, enable Center faculty to overwhelmingly focus on their laboratory research, while the Center progresses through a series of advances and expansions in scope and achievement.
The CNSR has components both “within-walls” and “beyond walls”. The Center currently has physical space for 8 internal faculty; member faculty are located in other departments beyond MGH. There are currently a total of 6 faculty physically in the Center (2 recruitments ongoing) and 3 member faculty with complementary interests in other HMS departments located within 1-2 blocks of the Center. The faculty members have related interests in bringing elements of neuronal differentiation, neural precursors / neural stem cells, axonal guidance and outgrowth, transplantation, and oligodendroglial differentiation to repair in the CNS over the coming decades. The Center administration supports grant management, resource management, and academic / research efforts of the local faculty.
Training Opportunities and Collaboration
Harvard University graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical students, and both Harvard and MIT undergraduates are pursuing research in the Center. The new space, superb facilities, and world-class junior staff enable venturesome directions of Center work. Importantly, new junior faculty have joined and will join the Center to work on mutually complementary science. The Center allows each lab to pursue that lab's work, while also building a larger vision and enterprise toward bringing basic neuroscience research eventually toward nervous system repair.
Academic and Research Achievement
CNSR laboratories have published a number of important research articles over the past 3 years. For example, Dr. Zheng-Yi Chen’s laboratory published a paper in Science in January, 2005 demonstrating the recruitment of new inner ear neurons (“hair cells”) to regenerate damaged hair cells. Dr. Emad Eskandar’s laboratory published a series of papers in both Nature Neuroscience and The Journal of Neuroscience in 2004, 2005, and 2006 elucidating reward networks in the brain and the circuitry enhancing visual-motor learning. Dr. Macklis’ laboratory published papers in Nature, Neuron, The Journal of Neuroscience, and PNAS (among others) reporting the first recruitment of new brain neurons from neural precursors / “adult stem cells”; recruiting entirely new corticospinal motor neurons (the brain neurons that die in ALS and other related motor neuron diseases and whose damage contributes centrally to loss of motor function in spinal cord injury); and identifying the first programs of molecular-genetic controls over the development of specific types of neurons of any type in the brain, potentially allowing regeneration of such neurons and their circuitry from precursors / stem cells. Other Center investigators also published excellent work, but these are just a few examples.
Lecture and Seminar Series
The CNSR has brought additional focus to the Harvard community in the field of central nervous system repair. The Center initiated a broad range of Harvard-wide and local scientific seminar and lecture series, along with central participation in Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair (HCNR) educational and training programs. Already underway during the initial Fall of 2002, prior to the space being completed, was a monthly CNSR Inaugural Lecture Series of eminent Neuroscience leaders from around the world, focusing on the basic science of nervous system repair. Immediately following that series, a focused monthly seminar series began with the same general focus, with speakers from around North America and the world. Special seminars are added when special opportunities arise. The CNSR joined with the newly formed MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine and with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to co-host a set of seminar speakers on topics specifically related to precursors / stem cells and central nervous system repair. The CNSR is one of two central educational and training sites (with the Neuroregeneration Laboratories at McLean Hospital) for the Regeneration and Repair Program of the Harvard Medical School HCNR “center without walls”. The CNSR also has a series of monthly “Inter-Lab Seminars” by students, postdocs, and faculty affiliated with the Center. These series and events have dramatically increased inter-lab collaboration, with shared ideas, facilities, equipment, and scientific directions.