Neuroscience Program Selects Next Cohort of Lois Pope LIFE Fellows

The Lois Pope LIFE Fellowship was created to honor the research efforts of students and fellows in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Each year, $1,000 awards are given to candidates who have performed exemplary work in finding cures for paralysis and other neurological disorders. This year’s recipients are:

  • Junior Erika Cabrera Ranaldi
  • Junior Scott Frank
  • Senior Brittni Walker
  • Senior Maureen Ascona
  • Post-doc Nicholas Cherup, Ph.D.
  • Post-doc Linda Robayo, Ph.D.

“This award is a testament to our commitment to aspiring neuroscientists and their search for cures in neurological diseases,” said Roberta Brambilla, Ph.D., director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. “It’s paramount that we foster the next generation of neuroscientists and invest in their research careers.”

Perspective from a Junior Researcher

Roberta Brambilla, Ph.D., shakes the hand of award recipient Erika Cabrera Ranaldi
Roberta Brambilla, Ph.D., shakes the hand of award recipient Erika Cabrera Ranaldi.

Erika Cabrera Ranaldi is using mouse models to investigate the intersection between Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury. On their own, both are significant causes of death and disability. When co-occurring, they can lead to complex and unique patient pathology.

Ranaldi is identifying therapeutic targets within the inflammasome pathway that is involved in a person’s immune response to injury. Her goal is to improve clinical outcomes and, hopefully, provide patients with a greater quality of life.

“Part of why I love doing research is the idea that, by developing new therapies, I can help patients find hope and positively impact theirs and their loved one’s lives,” Ranaldi said. “Overall, I am very excited about the projects I am currently working on and the promising data I am collecting. I can’t wait to see where they will take me next.”

Postdoctoral Work in Spinal Cord Injury

Three Lois Pope LIFE fellows are conducting spinal cord injury (SCI) research under the mentorship of Eva Widerstrom-Noga, D.D.S., Ph.D., a research professor in the Miller School’s Department of Neurological Surgery and a faculty member of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

“My laboratory has a strong interdisciplinary and translational focus on the difficult problem of neuropathic pain that many people with SCI experience after their injury,” Dr. Widerstrom-Noga said. “The Lois Pope LIFE scholars from my lab work to better understand the origins of these pain types and how to reduce pain severity and psychosocial impact. They are successfully learning to integrate several research areas while actively contributing to pain education, pain and psychosocial evaluations, brain imaging, electrophysiological and neurological assessments and non-pharmacological interventions.”

Roberta Brambilla, Ph.D., shakes the hand of award recipient Linda Robayo
Roberta Brambilla, Ph.D., with award recipient Linda Robayo.

This experience will be vital to Linda Robayo, Ph.D., a researcher in the Clinical Pain Research Laboratory directed by Dr. Widerstrom-Noga at the Miami Project.

Dr. Robayo’s research focuses on neuropathic pain after SCI, one of the most common and complex SCI complications. Her research aims to understand the neurological mechanisms of this type of pain and develop novel and effective therapies that can help people with SCI and other neurological diseases.

“I applied to this fellowship because I was inspired by Lois Pope, a remarkable philanthropist and humanitarian,” Dr. Robayo said. “My next steps involve testing the effects of different pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions on neuropathic pain in human subjects. I hope to collaborate with other researchers and clinicians in the field and to expand my network and skills as part of this program.”

Tags: Eva Widerstrom-Noga, Lois Pope, Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, neuroscience