optimize drug and gene therapies;
image drug effects at the molecular and cellular levels; and
assess the molecular pathology of disease progression.
Achieving these goals and translating those achievements into reliable clinical technologies will be critical steps toward the treatment and diagnosis of spinal cord injuries at the molecular level. To achieve these objectives, continued advances need to be made to overcome the challenges of biocompatibility, probe delivery, and high-resolution signal detection (Mahmood and Weissleder, 2002).
Cross-disciplinary collaboration and multidisciplinary research is needed to bring together molecular and cellular biologists, imaging scientists, nanotechnologists, and clinicians to reach these goals (Blasberg and Gelovani, 2002). Many of the imaging techniques used to examine the CNS were designed to visualize brain tumors or to assess Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and MS. These resources and technologies can be applied or can provide models for spinal cord injury research. For instance, investigators are examining the utility of using multiphoton imaging techniques to monitor the progression of senile plaques in mice that model Alzheimer’s disease (Christie et al., 2001). This technology could also be modified to assess and monitor the progression of the glial scar formation that results from spinal cord injuries.
The cancer research field not only has led the way in developing technologies but also has helped to establish research centers that have been critical in creating a means for translating imaging technologies into the clinic. In particular, the National Cancer Institute has developed two programs: the Small Animal Imaging Resources Program (SAIRP) and the In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Centers (ICMIC) Program. These programs, along with support mechanisms sponsored by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Engineering, provide mechanisms and model systems that can be used to promote the cooperative development of new imaging systems for spinal cord injury research and treatment.
Recommendation 3.1: Increase Training Efforts on Standardized Research Tools and Techniques
Spinal cord injury researchers should receive training in the use of standardized animal models and evaluation techniques. Pre- and postdoctoral fellowship training programs focused on spinal cord injury research should require participation in courses designed to train investigators on the appropriate use of the available tools and techniques.