Dr. Paula Slater arrived at the USS last November to lead a study team on cellular metabolism. Her research seeks therapeutic targets to regenerate the spinal cord.
Human beings -and mammals in general- are not capable of regenerating the spinal cord. An injury of this type not only entails physical problems such as loss of mobility and sensation, but also mental, emotional and social problems for the person affected and their environment.
However, the scientific community is optimistic and it is estimated that the day will soon come when it will be possible to generate effective treatments for injuries of this type. One of them is Dr. Paula Slater, biochemist by profession and PhD in Biological Sciences from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, who joined the Center for Cellular Biology and Biomedicine (CEBICEM) last November of the Faculty of Medicine and Science of the San Sebastian University.
During her career, Dr. Paula Slater has dedicated herself to research on neural development and regeneration. He worked in the Department of Biology at Boston College (USA), where he studied the function of the cytoskeleton during neuronal development, and then worked for several years with Dr. Juan Larraín in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where he studied the function of mitochondria in the regeneration of the spinal cord. His work was recognized in the 2021 and 2022 versions of the “Chilean Science Stories Contest” organized by the pharmaceutical company Merck.
spinal cord injury
Dr. Slater has spent years studying cells and their metabolic processes in search of an answer to this problem. “We studied mitochondrial function and transfer in both spinal cord damage and regeneration,” he says.
And in that search he works with Xenopus laevis, an African frog that has served as a model for the study of development and regeneration. This species has the particularity of regenerating its spinal cord during its larval phase, a capacity that is lost once metamorphosis is complete, thus allowing intraspecies comparison between a regenerative and a non-regenerative stage.
“It is important to understand the events that lead to successful regeneration, in order to be able to elucidate what is missing in an organism unable to regenerate,” says the researcher.
Currently, spinal cord injury in humans presents multiple events at the cellular level that are not known in detail. Furthermore, many of the cellular processes that occur during spinal cord injury and regeneration are associated with changes in mitochondria and cellular metabolism. For this reason, Dr. Slater’s research may shed light on those processes and may allow her, in the future, to propose new therapeutic targets to treat these lesions, in order to recover the functionality of the spinal cord in humans.