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Upstate stroke, dementia researcher wins prestigious science prize

Upstate stroke, dementia researcher wins prestigious science prize

CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla.-- Li-Ru Zhao, PhD, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery at Upstate Medical University and a research scientist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Syracuse, has been been awarded the 2017 Bernard Sanberg Memorial Award for Brain Repair from the American Society of Neural Therapy and Repair (ASNTR). The award, presented April 29 at the ASNTR annual meeting, recognizes Zhao’s significant research contributions in acute and chronic stroke, vascular dementia, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and Alzheimer's disease.

Zhao received her medical degree from Hebei Medical College in Shijizhaung, China, in 1982 and her PhD in neuroscience from the Wallenberg Neuroscience Center, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, in 2004. She carried out postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis. She subsequently served as a researcher and assistant at Northwestern University, and associate professor at Louisiana State University prior to coming to and the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

Zhao's extensive investigation into potential treatments for the debilitating effects of stroke includes the first demonstration of the neuroprotective properties of stem cell factor (SCF), granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) and SCF + G-CSF combinations in treating the effects of acute and chronic stroke. She discovered that these growth factors--naturally occurring substances capable of stimulating cellular growth, proliferation and healing--could be used alone or in combination to reduced brain damage from stroke and improve motor function. Her many studies into SCF and G-CSF used a variety of approaches, including molecular and cell biology as well as brain and cell imaging.

Her contributions to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research have investigated how amyloid plaques in the brain (one of the causes thought to be behind the development of the disease) might be cleared by injections of bone marrow-derived monocytes/macrophages (BMDMs) and SCF+G-CSF, all of which have been found to be low in the blood and bone marrow of AD patients.

In her most recent stroke studies, she is investigating Cerebral Autosomal-Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL), the most common yet rare form of hereditary stroke disorder. In her research, she found that neural stem cells were radically reduced in patients with CADSIL, causing cognitive impairment. Currently, there is no drug that can improve the functional or delay the progressive brain damage caused by CADASIL.

Her laboratory is currently studying how the bone marrow stem cell factors (SCF and G-CSF) repair the brain in both Alzheimer’s disease and CADASIL and is working at determining how the bone marrow stem cell factors regulate neuronal process formation, synaptic generation, and stem cell growth and differentiation.

“Dr. Zhao’s studies have significantly advanced our understanding about the contribution of SCF and G-CSF in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease,” said Barry J. Hoffer, MD, PhD, scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health and an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “She has also carried out exceptional service activities as a peer reviewer for grants for NIH, AHA, and Alzheimer's Association, as well as for a large number of scientific journals.

Zhao’s award is named for Bernard Sanberg, father of Dr. Paul Sanberg (University of South Florida), a co-founder of the ASNTR. After Bernard Sanberg died of a stroke in 1999, the award bearing his name was established and is presented by the ASNTR annually to an individual who has made outstanding research contributions in the field of neural therapy and repair. The award has been presented annually since 2000.


Recent past winners of the Bernard Sanberg Memorial Award for Brain Repair include: Mariana E. Emborg, PhD, MD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, John D. Elsworth, PhD, Yale School of Medicine, Douglas Kondziolka, MD, NYU Langone Medical Center; Mike Modo, PhD, University of Pittsburgh; Timothy Collier, PhD, Michigan State University; Donald Eugene Redmond, MD, Yale University; Shinn-Zong Lin, MD, PhD, China Medical University; Howard J. Federoff, MD, PhD, Georgetown University; Barry J. Hoffer, MD, PhD, National Institutes of Health