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Veeravalli Stroke and Spinal Cord Injury Lab

A graphic illustration of 2 brightly colored protein strands.

The Veeravalli lab focuses on explaining cellular and molecular mechanisms of tissue damage and functional recovery, identifying and validating novel targets, and evaluating the efficacy of novel treatments to reduce tissue damage and improve functional recovery after stroke and spinal cord injury.

Areas of Focus Heading link

The research team investigates the efficacy of novel treatments to:

  • Reduce brain or spinal cord injury, inflammation, apoptosis, and demyelination
  • Prevent blood-brain barrier or blood-spinal cord barrier disruption
  • Preserve neurological function
  • Promote the recovery of sensorimotor and cognitive function in rodent models of ischemic stroke and spinal cord injury.

The research goals are met through the use of multiple treatment strategies, including cell-based therapy with mesenchymal stem cells, target gene silencing therapy with siRNA/shRNA, and recombinant antibody therapy using single-chain variable fragment (scFv) antibodies.

Lab News Heading link

Collaborators Heading link

To conduct research, the lab works with faculty and students from UI COMP, as well as experts from other institutions.
  • Raghu Vemuganti, PhD

    Professor and Vice-Chair of Neurovascular Surgery
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Adinarayana Kunamneni, PhD

    Assistant Professor
    Mayo Clinic Jacksonville

  • Sourabh Lahoti, MD

    Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology, UICOMP
    Neurointerventional Surgeon and Vascular Neurologist
    Illinois Neurological Institute, OSF HealthCare

Stroke Projects Heading link

A drawing of a brain, highlighting ischemic core and penumbra.

​Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. Globally, fifteen million people suffer from a stroke each year and five million stroke patients die with another five million left permanently disabled. Despite decades of research, no clinically effective pharmacotherapies exist to facilitate cellular functional recovery after a stroke. It is still an unmet medical need. None of the treatment options thus far has proven efficacious in clinical studies, despite tremendous outcome in preclinical studies. The failure of many agents in clinical trials could be due to the complex pathology of ischemic stroke and illustrates the sobering challenge ahead for translational stroke therapy. In this scenario, it is very important to target several key molecules simultaneously, which can work by multiple mechanisms to control the early and delayed brain injury in both the ischemic core and the penumbra. The novel approach should adopt preclinical testing, advance the understanding of the pathophysiology of stroke and make it possible to translate it from bench to bedside.

Stem cell transplantation and gene silencing

Our research targets both the core and the penumbra by a combination of two cutting edge approaches; stem cell transplantation and target gene silencing, which we believe could significantly improve the microenvironment of ischemic brain as well as functional recovery after ischemic stroke.

Our lab works with both rat and mice stroke models. Stroke is a sexually dimorphic disease. While, young females are protected against ischemia compared to males (partially due to the protective effect of estrogens), older females exhibit extensive brain damage and poor recovery. Our experimental approach is rigorous as we use both males and females, young and older animals, and test the key outcomes in other stroke labs.

Spinal Injury Projects Heading link

3 images side by side, depicting a normal rat spinal cord, an injured rat spinal cord and a hUCB treated rat spinal cord.

SCI is a devastating injury which involves an initial mechanical damage followed by a series of cellular and molecular secondary events resulting in the progressive destruction of spinal cord tissue. Neuropathic pain (NP) is one of the most debilitating sequelae of neurotrauma and remains an unmet clinical need for at least 40% of patients with SCI. Methylprednisolone is the only FDA approved drug that is currently available to limit the extent of SCI in the acute settings but it does nothing for prevention or mitigation of subsequent neuropathic pain following SCI. Despite decades of extensive research in this area, no clinically effective therapies exist to modulate neuropathic pain and facilitate functional recovery after spinal cord injury.

SCI results in a multitude of changes affecting several different cell types, leading to a complex pathological picture. Most research findings to date suggest that no single therapy will be sufficient to overcome the myriad of biological cascade initiated after SCI. Effective treatments of SCI require a multifaceted approach using a combination of different methodologies and therapeutic approaches over different time to address many of the devastating issues besides functional impairment such as chronic pain associated with SCI.

Stem cell transplantation and gene silencing

Our current research utilizes stem cell transplantation and gene silencing. A variety of different stem cell types have been evaluated in animal models and humans with SCI. Previous studies have reported that human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hUCB-MSCs) promote neural repair after SCI, even when administered 5 days after injury. Transplanted hUCB-MSCs differentiate into various neural cells and induce motor function improvement in SCI rat models. In concert with these findings, we also have recently reported that hUCB-MSCs improved the locomotor recovery of spinal cord injured rats while regulating the expression of several genes related to apoptosis, axon outgrowth and myelin degradation. However, more detailed experiments are needed to delineate the mechanism of how hUCB-MSCs modulate NP and functional improvement after SCI.