Surgeon president Diana Farmer receives national award for work on spina bifida

UC Davis Health Department of Surgery Distinguished Professor and Chair Diana Farmer is one of 11 recipients of the Harrington Scholar-Innovator Awards 2022. The awards are presented by the Harrington Discovery Institute of the University Hospitals (UH) of Cleveland, Ohio.

The scientific awards support a diverse range of drug discovery projects, including new treatments for lung disease, COVID-19, multiple cancers, corneal disease, hepatitis and acquired spinal cord injuries. They include grants of at least $100,000, with eligibility for up to $1.1 million.

“The 2022 Scholar-Innovator class represents an exciting portfolio of emerging drugs with the potential to significantly improve human health. We are honored to support these extraordinary physician-scientists,” said Jonathan S. Stamler, president of the Harrington Discovery Institute and Robert S. and Sylvia K. Reitman Family Foundation Stamler is also a distinguished professor of cardiovascular innovation and professor of medicine and biochemistry at University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University.

Farmer recognized for spina bifida work

Nearly 1.5 million Americans suffer from some form of spinal cord injury, which can range in severity from sensory deficits to irreversible paralysis. Spina bifida is a congenital form of spinal cord injury caused by the incomplete closure of the neural tube during early fetal development.

Farmer’s research has produced a unique “patch” made from placental mesenchymal stem cells. It is applied to a baby’s exposed spinal cord during in-utero surgery. In animal studies, the researchers found that the stem cell patch and surgical repair was effective and safe.

In 2021, Farmer launched the first human clinical trial to test the procedure and patch for the treatment of spina bifida.

The Farmer’s Award supports the further development of this technology for spinal cord injury in adults. The application of placental stem cells for such injuries remains largely unexplored. Preclinical studies showed that placental mesenchymal stem cells seeded on an extracellular matrix structure and applied directly to the injury site protected neurons and preserved spinal cord tissue.

Farmer and team recently developed a unilateral model for cervical spinal cord contusion. Her study will evaluate the treatment of acquired spinal cord injury. If successful, this multifunctional stem cell-based regenerative treatment could lay the foundation for future clinical therapies to potentially improve the quality of life of these patients.

The Harrington Discovery Institute was founded in 2012 to accelerate the development of new treatments to address important unmet needs in medicine and society. Harrington Scholar-Innovators are accomplished physician-scientists whose research demonstrates innovation, creativity and potential for clinical impact.

Since its inception, the Harrington Discovery Institute has supported 162 drugs in the making, 64 institutions, 31 new corporate launches, 17 clinical candidates and 12 pharmaceutical licenses.

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