Year 2

Recovering sensation after spinal cord injury or disease is both an urgent unmet medical need and an objective that would immeasurably improve the quality of patients’ lives. Although important progress has been made towards rewiring the motor circuits that will permit paralyzed patients to walk, very little progress had been made reestablishing the sensory circuits that permit patients to experience their environment. Sensory circuits are established by spinal interneurons, there are distinct classes of interneurons which permit us to position our bodies in space, touch our children, and detect and avoid the painful stimuli that can result in serious physical damage. This award has permitted us to make progress on this problem: we have established protocols to derive spinal interneurons from human stem cells for the first time, as well as gaining a deep understanding into the molecular mechanisms that generate spinal interneurons during development. We are now poised to start assessing whether the stem cell derived sensory interneurons are functionally identical to their in vivo counterparts.