Neuroplasticity and Repair Laboratory
The spinal cord is a remarkable organ. The human spinal cord measures 0.5 inches at its largest diameter in the cervical spine, and within this space there are approximately 50+ anatomical tracts, 1 billion neurons, and 7 trillion connections.
Our laboratory strategy is based on 3 simple observations: (1) Complex motor and autonomic functions are encoded in the spinal cord. (2) There is substantial automaticity present in the spinal cord with minimal input from the cortex. (3) In conditions such as spinal cord injury, there are dormant, residual circuits present that can be modulated to become functional even years after initial injury.
We have used neuromodulation to restore lost function. The focus of our laboratory is to elucidate the spinal cord circuits relevant for motor and autonomic function and, combined with the 3 simple observations, apply this understanding to the development of novel treatments for injury conditions such as spinal cord injury. We conduct basic science research in rodent models and translate these findings to humans in clinical trials. Importantly, we seek to elucidate the mechanistic basis for such improvement by using optogenetic, chemogenetic, immunohistochemical, physiological, electrophysiological, computer modeling, and AI techniques.
Fundamental to our way of thinking is that we are not constrained by artificial barriers. We are multi-disciplinary in our approach. We are neurosurgeons, neurophysiologists, molecular biologists, computer scientists, engineers, and physical therapists working together in the laboratory. We are driven by the questions we ask and constrained only by our imagination, not by our background, training, or degrees. Join us and take part in discovery.
Techniques Employed in Lab:
(2) Chemogenetic techniques
(3) Immunohistochemistry/tract viral tracing with fluorescent and confocal microscopy
(4) Whole animal and isolated organ physiology/electrophysiology
(5) Single cell sequencing
(6) Animal behavioral assessments
(7) Computer modelling/machine learning/artificial intelligence analysis and application
(1) Human physiology and electrophysiology in anesthetized and non-anesthetized state
(2) 3D motion capture
(3) Overground and body-weight supported locomotor training and assessment
(4) Upper extremity robotic training and assessment
(5) Advanced fMRI imaging
(6) Early to advance phase clinical trials
Department of Defense - Spinal Cord Injury Research Program Award
NIH National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering – U01 Award
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse - R01 Award
NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - UH3 Award
Daniel C. Lu, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery
Daniel C. Lu is a member of the Comprehensive Spine Center in Santa Monica. Dr. Lu’s clinical expertise involves minimally invasive techniques in the surgical management of degenerative, traumatic, and neoplastic spinal disorders. As the Director of the Neuroplasticity and Repair Laboratory and the UCLA Neuromotor Recovery and Rehabilitation Center, his research efforts are focused on modulating the neuronal circuitry and networks in the treatment of central nervous system disorders with the ultimate goal of restoring lost function.
Erika Galer, BS
Erika Galer, B.S. completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in Psychology and Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology with a Neuroscience certificate. As an undergraduate, she worked on a project investigating the role of microglia in biochemical and behavior measures of reward from morphine and cocaine. Upon graduation, she took a Professional Research Assistant position in the same lab and began work on a several projects examining the role of CNS inflammation and microglia activation contributing to chronic pain. She began her graduate program in Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology at UCLA in the fall of 2015. Her research interests lie in molecular and cellular signaling of aberrant neurological states. Her research goals are to participate in developing novel therapeutic techniques that can improve the lives of people affected by spinal cord injury and neurodegeneration.
Ruyi Huang, BS
Ruyi Huang, B.S. graduated from the University of Shanghai Fudan in 2010 with a Life Science degree. In 2011, Ruyi joined the Lu lab due to her interest in traumatic brain injury. Her current research is focused on Alzhiemers disease and understanding the underlying effects of the disease. Ruyi works with a transgenic line and conducts experiments on recovery that focuses on non-effected versus effected mice with AD+ gene expression. In her free time, she likes trying new foods, traveling, Sprouts Market and reading.
Lisa Moore, BS
Lisa D. Moore, B.S. graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009 with a double major in Neuroscience and Biology. As an undergraduate, she worked at Johns Hopkins University, Department of Neurology for Dr. Douglas Kerr M.D., Ph.D. studying Schwann cells and perisynaptic Schwann cell isolation. Subsequently, she performed 2 years of research at University of Virginia, Center for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases under Dr. James Bennett M.D., Ph.D. One year later Lisa worked at NIH, NINDS Laboratory of Molecular Medicine and Neuroscience. In 2010, Lisa entered the UCLA family by joining the Lu lab. Her current research is focused on understanding stroke and how to recover from paralysis after the initial destruction. Outside of the lab, Lisa loves long walks on the beach, spending time with husband who cooks amazing meals, and going to concerts.
Eric K. Garner, R.EEGT., CNIM, Clinical Specialist Supervisor
Eric K. Garner, R.EEGT., CNIM is a Registered Electroencephalographic Technologist and is Certified in Neurophysiologic Intraoperative Monitoring through the American Board of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists, Inc. (ABRET). He served 20 years in Clinical Neurophysiology at Loma Linda University Medical Center prior to joining Santa Monica UCLA Clinical Neurophysiology in Q1 2013. Eric joined Dr. Lu’s Laboratory in Q4 2013 where he was assigned a primary role in teaching the techniques and methodology in the acquisition of electroneurophysiologic data in Intraoperative and SCI research projects pioneered by the Lu Lab.
Hamidreza Ghasemi, Ph.D.
Hamidreza Ghasemi, Ph.D. received his doctoral degree at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the University of Iowa, summer 2016. Prior to Ph.D, he received his BS.c degree at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Tehran, summer 2013. His research interest and strength are Machine Learning, Data Science, Signal Processing and Mathematical Modeling. He joined Dr. Lu's lab to conduct research in the field of spinal cord physiology, utilizing advanced data analytics and algorithms to analyze biological and physiological signals in response to novel neuromodulation strategies; he will also apply machine learning tools to assess the effectiveness of these strategies.
Tali Homsey, BA
Tali Homsey, B.A. completed a premedical post-baccalaureate program at Loyola Marymount University in 2015, after receiving a B.A. in Psychology with honors from California State University, Northridge. She joined the Lu Lab in 2014 because of her interest in Neuroscience, where she has been involved in several studies that test motor and respiratory functioning of patients with spinal cord injury and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She hopes to continue her work in research as she pursues a medical career. In her free time, Tali enjoys traveling, Pilates, watching movies and spending time with family and friends.
Josh Chambers, PT, DPT
Josh Chambers is a Physical Therapist for UCLA Health working in Outpatient Rehabilitation as well as the Research Lab. He is certified to perform the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury examination and does so for the lab. Josh also assists with studies involving function and mobility in chronic spinal cord injury.
Timothy Le is a junior at UCLA studying Neuroscience (B.S.). He joined the lab in the Spring of 2016 because of his interest in the lab's work using electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to treat patients with spinal cord injury. Besides assisting with clinical trials, he also develops computer programs to analyze patient data collected from these clinical trials. Outside of the lab, Timothy enjoys working with electronic systems, such as microcontrollers, servers and radios, and has performed as a solo violinist with multiple local and international orchestras.
Afsoon Ghafari is a senior undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Neuroscience. Since joining the Lu Lab in 2016, she has worked on multiple studies that test motor functionality in Spinal Cord Injury patients. In addition, she studies respiration during neurosurgical operations at Santa Monica Hospital as part of Dr. Lu's Intraoperative study. In the future, Afsoon hopes to pursue a career in medicine.
Stephanie Wang, BS
Stephanie Wang is a second year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in Biology with Honors, Distinction, and a Field of Study in Neurobiology and conducted research with Professors Kang Shen and Gary Steinberg. In the Lu lab, she is now studying spinal cord circuitry and functional recovery of spinal cord injury patients. Stephanie is pursuing a career in neurosurgery, with an interest in stereotactic and functional surgery of the spine.
Joe F. Jabre, MD
Joe F Jabre is a Board Certified Neurologist who specializes in clinical neurophysiology. Before moving to California in 2015, he held the position of Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and was the Chief of the Harvard-BU combined Neurology Service at the Boston VA Medical Center. Dr. Jabre has developed several novel techniques and medical devices for the exploration of the central and peripheral nervous systems, some of which are protected by a US patents. Since 1985, he has been the recipient of eight grants on Neuromuscular disorders for a total of $6,613,851. He has been invited to over one hundred and twenty five guest lectureships in thirty countries and his academic research has been published in several national and international journals. Dr. Jabre is also passionate about disruptive healthcare technologies and expert system design to improve and standardize the delivery of healthcare.
Jay C. Leiter, MD, Adjunct Professor of Neurosurgery
James C. Leiter is trained in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and he has conducted NIH-sponsored research in Respiratory Neurobiology for more than 30 years. Dr. Leiter is a Professor of Molecular and Systems Biology and Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in addition to his role as an Adjunct Professor at UCLA. His research interests encompass a wide range of topics in cardiorespiratory physiology ranging from the control of respiratory muscle activity, the genesis and control of respiratory rhythms, the relationships among reflex apneas, gasping and autoresuscitation to investigations of the function of individual neurons and astrocytes. Dr. Leiter brings his expertise in experimental design and analysis and his interest interventional, device-based approaches to ameliorating neurological function to the problem of modulating the neuronal circuitry and networks in the treatment of central nervous system disorders with the ultimate goal of restoring lost function.
Mrs. Naomi Gonzalez joined the Dr. Lu’s lab in 2010. She is responsible for the complex coordination of research patients enrolled in various clinical trials. In Addition, Naomi takes care of Dr. Lu’s clinical and surgery patients along with managing his practice.