Paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve and others who have lost the use of their limbs due to spinal cord injury may have hope for assistance in recovery thanks to research being done by Millikin alumnus Nicole Tester ’99. Tester is a doctoral candidate with a pre-doctoral fellowship in neuroscience at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.
“My research focuses on ways of enhancing anatomical recovery and recovery of locomotor function in the adult cat after spinal cord injury,” she says. “We are studying the effects of a chondroitinase enzyme and there is some reason to be encouraged that it may, ultimately, help humans who have been injured and lost the use of their limbs.” Tester is in her fifth year of research at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute. Since the beginning of the project, the suburban Chicago native has been part of a research team testing the impact of the enzyme on cats whose spinal cords have been injured.
“My mentor and I chose cats because of our lab’s experience with this particular animal model and the huge body of work regarding the locomotion of cats, which is of great use to us as we evaluate how their movement improves as we administer the therapy,” says Tester.
“There is a particular group of molecules thought to inhibit new growth after injury in the central nervous system and our goal is to promote axonal growth by changing the cellular environment.” She says preliminarily results are promising.
“It’s quite a thrill that my mentor is already in talks with a pharmaceutical company to set up a scientific collaboration,” she says. “It is our hope that the studies evolving from this collaboration will lead to clinical trials for this therapy. I have been here since we began developing preliminary data and will likely be here when our research is the launchpad for trials to see how we can make this work for people as well as animals.”
Tester enjoys her work but says she spends nearly every waking hour in the laboratory and misses the relatively carefree days of undergraduate study at Millikin. It was encouragement from Millikin [chemistry] Professors Ed Acheson and Clarence Josefson that led Tester to pursue a career in research.
Read the complete profile in the spring 2004 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.