World Leader in Spinal Cord Research and Treatment

November 1, 2004
Dr. John McDonald will establish new center for spinal cord restoration

Baltimore - One of the world's leading spinal cord researchers, Dr. John McDonald, will join the staff of Kennedy Krieger Institute to establish a program to serve patients with spinal cord injury and paralysis.

The physician who helped the late actor Christopher Reeve recover some sensation, movement and moments of independence from his ventilator, Dr. McDonald founded and served as director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. At Kennedy Krieger Institute, he will serve as director of the new Spinal Cord Research Center.

The new Spinal Cord Research Center at Kennedy Krieger will aid patients with paralysis regain feeling and movement through innovative "activity-based restoration," a treatment and research-based model. Traditional spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs have focused on helping patients learn ways to compensate for disabilities thought to be irreversible. With activity-based restoration, therapists assume that patients may be able to actually recover function. The method relies on the principle that the nervous system requires patterned neural activity to maintain and generate spinal cord cells.

Dr. McDonald and other specialists believe that by simulating normal movement, the resulting neural activity can help regenerate cells and help their patients' bodies "remember" how to move. Dr. McDonald also expects that, in addition to aiding patients injured in accidents, these techniques could be used to help those with disorders like spina bifida, where the spinal cord injury happens at birth or earlier.

"Our clinical approaches have shown that function in individuals who are paralyzed can actually be restored through vigorous physical activity," Dr. McDonald says. "I could have brought my expertise to any institution in the world, but I chose to join Kennedy Krieger Institute because of their unprecedented interdisciplinary treatment and research."

Kennedy Krieger is the world-renowned neuroscience institute for children and adolescents with disorders of the brain and spinal cord, both congenital and acquired. Dr. McDonald's work will complement current research and treatment programs at the Institute and greatly enhance the care of children in its rehabilitation programs, including those recovering from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and other motor disorders.

Dr. McDonald received his combined M.D. and Ph.D. in neurosciences in 1992 from the University of Michigan. He completed research fellowship training at Kennedy Krieger Institute in 1993 and residency training at Washington University School of Medicine before joining the faculty there in 1996.

Dr. McDonald's research, which focuses on the mechanisms of spinal cord injury and repair as well as restoration of function, has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, the International Neurotrauma Society, American Academy of Neurology and other organizations.

"John McDonald is a world-renowned scientist and a compassionate physician," said Gary W. Goldstein, president of Kennedy Krieger Institute. "His ability to translate complex neuroscience into effective treatments for children with paralysis and spinal cord injury holds great promise for so many of the children we serve - and for children from around the world."

Kennedy Krieger Institute is an internationally recognized organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. Each year, more than 11,000 children are served through inpatient and day treatment programs, outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs.

In addition to providing this broad spectrum of services for children and families affected by autism, cerebral palsy, genetic disorders and many other conditions, Kennedy Krieger is also home to a team of scientists and investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how these disorders develop and pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. In addition, Kennedy Krieger staff annually trains hundreds of medical specialists who apply their knowledge in communities around the world

Allison Nadelhaft, (443) 923-7330
Bryan Stark, (443) 923-7334