The Cao laboratory focuses on understanding the pathological mechanisms underlying spinal cord injury (SCI) and developing therapeutic strategies to promote regeneration and functional recovery after SCI. A major thrust in the laboratory is to test therapeutic potential of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs)-derived neural stem or progenitor cells. Using the established culture system, his team seeks to elucidate the mechanisms regulating the differentiation of hiPSC into a variety of neural cells, develops novel approaches to isolate and purify neural stem or progenitor cells from hiPSCs and then examine the therapeutic efficacy and long-term safety of these cells in SCI animal model.
The long-term goal is to develop a stem cell-based treatment which is effective to replace the lost/damaged neural tissue, promote functional recovery, and thus improve the quality of life in patients with SCI and other neurological diseases. Second, his team gears toward understanding mechanisms regulating the formation of glial scar following trauma to the nervous system by utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, including the next generation sequencing, transgenic mice techniques and gene therapies. While glial scar in the injury area represents a major barrier for regeneration and plasticity, especially during the late stage of SCI and other neurological diseases, it also plays important roles in neuroprotection in the early stage by restricting the inflammation cells, limiting the injury and/or releasing cytokines/growth factors. The mechanisms for the dual roles of glial scar remain unknow. It is hoped that the new knowledge gained from our basic science studies will uncover key mediators for the dual roles of glial scar and pave the way for therapeutic interventions to enlarge its protective roles and mitigate its detrimental inhibition roles in regeneration and thus to promote tissue sparing and improve neurological outcomes in patients with SCI and other neurological diseases.