Dr. Unda Wins Tasker Award

Santiago R. Unda, MD, a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Michael Kaplitt’s Laboratory of Molecular Neurosurgery, was awarded the 2022 Ronald R. Tasker Young Investigator Award by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). The Tasker Award is given at the CNS meeting each year to the highest-ranked abstract submitted on pain research by a resident, fellow, or neurosurgeon two years in practice or less.

 The abstract, “Retrograde Adeno Associated Viruses-mediated Gene Transfer to Primary Nociceptors via Paw Injection Modulates Pain-related Phenotypes,” describes research into how to reach primary nociceptors, which are the first neurons involved in processing normal and pathological pain. Gene therapy targeting primary nociceptors have great promise for treating pain, but it has been difficult to administer directly to the dorsal root ganglion, which carries pain messages to the central nervous system. Dr. Unda’s work addressed that challenge.

In the winning abstract, Dr. Unda describes how retrograde adeno-associated virus (AAVretro) can reach dorsal root ganglion neurons following paw injections in mice. Activation of those neurons had successfully altered the pain signal. This approach enables potential human clinical translation for peripheral nervous system disorders that cause pain.

Dr. Unda and other investigators in the Kaplitt lab are continuing a long tradition of innovation in gene therapy. Dr. Kaplitt has been a pioneer in using AAV-mediated gene therapy for pain and other conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, for decades. He developed the first such procedure in 1994, and in 2003 he performed the first-ever gene therapy procedure for Parkinson’s disease. He conducted the first clinical trial of that approach, and continues to develop new trials and surgical approaches in his lab today.

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