American Society for Peripheral Nerve (ASPN)
Summer 2021 Issue
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Take the Money and Run
Stephen Kemp, MD
They took the money and ran with it! Highlighting previous ASPN/PSF grant winners and what they did with their awards. This month’s feature highlights the work of Stephen Kemp at the University of Michigan.
  1. Please summarize your project funded by the PSF/ASPN combined grant? What year did your receive this award?

    I received the 2020 PSF/ASPN Combined Grant entitled, “Fat grafting to enhance nerve regeneration after delayed nerve repair”. Over the past decade, several studies investigated enhanced nerve regeneration after a delayed repair by either supplementing Schwann Cells (SCs) or providing exogenous trophic factors. It has been shown that multipotent adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) benefit nerve regeneration due to their ease of harvest, ability to secrete neurotrophic factors, and to differentiate into SC phenotypes. However, purified ASCs are classified as manufactured drugs by the FDA, and their clinical application is highly regulated. This constraint may be avoided by employment of autologous unpurified fat grafts, whose native ASCs may benefit nerve regeneration without regulatory burdens.

    To overcome current limitations in the clinical use of multipotent ASCs in delayed nerve repair, we proposed to utilize autologous unpurified adipose tissue grafts. Such grafts innately possess native ASCs, whose differentiative and proliferative qualities may benefit nerve regeneration after chronic axotomy or chronic denervation. Minimally invasive structural fat grafting is commonly used in different reconstructive surgeries, rejuvenation, and more recently, in healing of radiotherapy-induced tissue damage and other restrictive scar formations.

  2. What was the most significant finding/outcome/lesson learned from this project?

    We have learned several lessons from this project. The most significant findings of this work were: (1) we have shown that minimally processed adipose tissue is easily harvested in large quantities without serious donor site morbidity; (2) Our technique presented is easily translatable to the clinical setting, and could potentially improve motor and sensory outcomes following delayed nerve repair or proximal peripheral nerve injury; (3) This study has determined that the application of minimally processed ASC’s through fat grafting were as efficacious as heavily processed stem cell populations, and; (4) Successful implementation of this therapy led to enhanced functional recovery following delayed nerve repair. Results from this study may lead to clinical translation of this technique, increased quality of life for affected patients, and a decreased burden for patients with these debilitating nerve injuries.

  3. Are you still working in this area of research? Did the PSF/ASPN grant influence that outcome (positively or negatively)?

    We are actively still pursuing this line of research. The PSF/ASPN grant definitely positively influenced our experience working with these cells, and this line of research has now become a core focus of my lab. We have further branched out to using autologous fat grafting to enhance outcomes resulting from long autografts following severe nerve injury.

  4. Did any grants or publications result from this grant?

    We currently have two grants under review at both the NIH and the DoD that are a direct result of our PSF/ASPN grant. Furthermore, we currently have two publications under review from the studies done in this grant.

  5. How did the PSF/ASPN grant contribute to your career development?

    The PSF/ASPN grant contributed to multiple areas of my career development. First, it helped to enhance my grant writing skills. I appreciate that these grants are written in the typical R21 style, which provides excellent experience in this format. I have had success with obtaining an R21, which was a direct result of my experience writing PSF/ASPN grants. Second, working on this grant helped me expand my collaborative team. We worked with investigators on this grant who I didn’t even know before. These investigators have taught members of my lab to become proficient in several cell-based techniques that we otherwise would not have done. Third, this grant has allowed me to expand my leadership skills through mentoring of students in different departments.

  6. Any advice you’d give to others who are considering the PSF/ASPN funding mechanism?

    I cannot stress how grateful I am to both the PSF and ASPN for this grant. These grants provide valuable funding which can then be used to obtain larger grants from external funding agencies such as the NIH and the DoD. They have been absolutely critical to my professional development and progression through my early stage investigator career. I would highly recommend that all investigators interested in this field of research apply for these grants. I would also advise people to take the appropriate amount of time in both planning and writing these grants. The competition is very intense, and a lot of time and effort goes into writing these.

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