Dr. Gordon Mitchell and his team were recently awarded a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute concerning how two important cell types in the spinal cord interact to regulate respiratory plasticity triggered by repetitive exposure to low oxygen. The grant entitled “Microglial regulation of intermittent hypoxia induced phrenic motor plasticity” is for $2.7 million over a four year period, and will support fundamental research to investigate ways that the innate immune cells of the spinal cord, or microglia, regulate plasticity in the motor neurons that give rise to breathing. Dr. Mitchell is collaborating with faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Professor Jyoti J. Watters and Associate Professor Tracy L. Baker, and a postdoctoral associate working in his laboratory, Dr. Arash Tadjalli.
Although this grant supports basic science research, it is part of a continuum of research intended to accelerate clinical application. Basic research in this general area has already inspired multiple clinical trials to improve breathing ability (Dr. Emily Fox at UF) and other movements after spinal cord injury, such as arm and leg function (Dr. W.Z. Rymer at the Shirley Ryan Ability Laboratory in Chicago; and Dr. Randy Trumbower at Harvard University in Boston). The same approach is being used to treat breathing impairment in neurodegenerative diseases, including ongoing studies in people with ALS (Drs. Barbara Smith & Wymer at UF). Because of recent interest in this area, the UF team is orchestrating an international workshop on Neurotherapeutic Intermittent Hypoxia in February, 2020.