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News Beat March 2018 Feature Story
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Seattle Science Foundation: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Spinal Cord


Life Science Washington is excited to share our day one keynote speaker at Life Science Innovation Northwest is Seattle Science Foundation. Drs. Rod Oskouian and Shane Tubbs of the Foundation are doing impressive work on a groundbreaking project to create a three-dimensional, open-source atlas of the human spinal cord. We interviewed Dr. Oskouian to garner pre-conference insight into their project and gain a sense of how this unique endeavor is progressing.



Seattle Science Foundation has undergone a metamorphosis in the last year or two.
How has it changed your vision for the future?

The Seattle Science Foundation has experienced incredible growth in the last two years. Since its inception in 2006, the Foundation has made great strides in advancing patient care through our continuing medical education programs. In 2015, the Foundation implemented an anatomical research platform that would produce clinically relevant research designed to support our end goal of improving patient care. 



What inspired you to tackle this medical challenge?

The spinal cord is an incredibly complex and challenging structure to study. As a clinical anatomist, I was aware that detailed mapping of the anatomy of the spinal cord did not exist. The primary reason was due to a lack of technology available. However, considering the fundamental role the spinal cord serves as a medium between the brain and the rest of the body, and technological advances over the past few years - many of which might be used to treat spinal cord disease - it was timely to begin the slow process of unraveling this great anatomical mystery.



How did the Tubbs-Oskouian collaboration come about? Why did you decide to conduct the project at the Seattle Science Foundation and by extension the Seattle life science community?

Headed by our CEO Dr. Rod Oskouian, three years ago, the Foundation launched a worldwide search to find the right person to lead a new comprehensive clinical anatomy research platform at the Seattle Science Foundation. The new platform would contribute to the already high-end continuing medical education training already being conducted at the facility. Dr. Shane Tubbs was identified as an international expert in anatomy and was recruited for this new endeavor.



The project is a year old. How is it going? Are you on schedule? When will Phase II start?

Due to the incredible generosity of donors, the 3D Spinal Cord Atlas entered Phase I of the study in late 2017. With an initial timeline of 24 months and using the latest imaging techniques, including focal stacking and 3D depth mapping, we are slightly ahead of schedule. Phase II has a tentative implementation date of June 2019. A great deal of our time the next year will be focused on revising our procedures, implementing new emerging technologies, and leading a fundraising campaign for the research.



How does Eric Luttio fit into the project? Did you plan to have a patient/victim as part of the team or did it come about organically? 

Eric is an incredible person. Like most individuals who experience a spinal cord injury, he was astonished and disappointed at the lack of available research on spinal cord injury that could have a direct effect on patients like him. Although the 3D Atlas of the Spinal Cord will not be a cure itself, this new and better understanding of the intrinsic anatomy of the human spinal cord might serve as a platform for developing new treatments for patients like Eric who have little hope of walking again.



What treatments other than stem cell therapy do you envision being possible with the help of the atlas?

As an open-access atlas, we are hopeful it will become a springboard for researchers to develop new and novel treatments for patients. For example, direct electrical stimulation of deep brain structures for such diseases as epilepsy and movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease is now an everyday occurrence. Therefore, with a new and better understanding of the spinal cord as afforded by the new 3D Atlas of the Spinal Cord, such direct stimulation of the spinal cord might be considered for various diseases that were once considered untreatable.



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