Dr. Kevin K. Park Selected as 2012 Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences

Twenty-two of the nation’s most innovative young researchers, including Kevin K. Park, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, were named Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts on June 14. The scholars join a prestigious community that includes Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows, and recipients of the prestigious Lasker Awards.

The new class of scholars is exploring a range of human health issues from antibiotic-resistant infections to liver disease and cancer. Launched in 1985, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences identifies and invests in talented researchers in medicine or biomedical sciences. To date, more than 500 Pew Scholars have received more than $130 million in funding.

“As a researcher, being named a Pew Scholar is a tremendous honor,” said Park. “The award reflects the outstanding research environment and support I have received as a principal investigator at the Miller School’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which has allowed my work to be carried out and acknowledged by the Foundation. The award will provide not only resources to perform research into promoting nerve regeneration, but also allow irreplaceable opportunities to interact with other young investigators.”

Park, age 34, completed his doctoral research in anatomy and human biology at the University of Western Australia in 2007. Before joining the Miller School faculty in 2010, Park was a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Zhigang He, Ph.D., at Harvard University. His research has promising implications for understanding nerve-cell regeneration and could lead to new treatments for nerve damage that involves the brain and spinal cord. “Damaged nerves in the central nervous system, like those found in the spinal cord and optic nerve, do not inherently re-grow, causing permanent loss of motor and sensory functions,” Park explained. “My research explores strategies to stimulate injured nerve fibers to re-grow and reconnect to their targets, with hopes of restoring these lost functions.”

“Nerve cell (neuron) regeneration, nerve regrowth and spinal cord and brain tissue repair after injury are among the most challenging medical accomplishments that will be realized in the 21st century,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School. “They will be required to allow paralyzed patients to recover and resume partial to full range of motion. Dr. Park is a stellar young scientist in the outstanding environment of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, created by Drs. Barth Green and Dalton Dietrich and their team of exceptional scientists and surgeons. We are proud of Kevin and his selection as a Pew Scholar, a wonderful honor indeed.”

The program operates on the premise that, by backing researchers early in their careers, the most promising scientists can take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to advance human health.

The investment is one Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts, says has really paid off.

“We are proud to back our country’s most promising scientists,” said. “This funding comes at points in the scholars’ professional lives when they often are the most innovative “The program has paid incalculable dividends due to our scholars’ record of producing groundbreaking research.”

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