Vance Lemmon, Ph.D., the Walter G. Ross Distinguished Chair in Developmental Neuroscience and professor of neurological surgery at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, earned the Lifetime Achievement Award in Neural Regeneration at the 2021 International Neural Regeneration Symposium, organized by the editorial board of the scientific journal Neural Regeneration Research.
The event was co-hosted with the Asia Pacific Symposium on Neural Regeneration in Nantong, China. With this award, Dr. Lemmon joins the ranks of only five prior Lifetime Achievement Award in Neural Regeneration recipients, including two Nobel Prize laureates, a member of the Royal Society, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and an editor-in-chief of Science.
Dr. Lemmon, who also serves as program director of Computational Biology at the Institute for Data Science and Computing, has helped advance the development of high-throughput phenotypic screening methods for the primary, signal-generating neurons of the central nervous system. These methods of characterization are foundational to understanding the adult mammalian central nervous system’s lack of self-repair mechanisms, thereby identifying candidate targets for regeneration strategies.
Early Findings Generate Wide Acceptance
Early in his career, he developed key antibodies that allowed for the study of the role of adhesion molecules in axonal outgrowth, gaining him wide acceptance in the regeneration field. Following this work, Dr. Lemmon continued to transition his expertise from electrophysiology to cellular and molecular neuroscience. During this time, Dr. Lemmon worked with several Japanese scientists, at the time postdoctoral fellows, which helped him establish a professional link to Asia. Upon his 2003 move to The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Dr. Lemmon merged his laboratory with that of Dr. John Bixby, creating the LemBix lab. Together, and with a host of national and international collaborators, the LemBix lab has now screened another 440 million compounds and genetic molecules on primary neurons.
Dr. Lemmon’s connection to the International Neural Regeneration Symposium began in 2013 with a talk titled “Functional genomics and SCI.”
Collaboration between North American and Chinese scientists working on axonal regeneration dates back to the mid-1980s.
Links to Chinese Clinical Trials
The recent uptick in Chinese emphasis on rehabilitation medicine, including an increase in the number of clinical trials testing regenerative strategies in persons with spinal cord injury, coincided with Dr. Lemmon’s first presentation at the Symposium. The boosted neural regeneration efforts on Chinese soil overlaps with Premier Li Keqiang’s assumption of office in 2013 and is commensurate with the increased prevalence of neurotrauma in China (in part due to occupational hazard), as well as the capacity for human trials afforded by the country’s population size.
Dr. Lemmon’s efforts toward these trials includes a 2017 biomaterial validation study that involved multiple multi-week visits to China (by Dr. Lemmon and his team) and a formal institutional data sharing and oversight policy that reinforced the study’s analysis plan. Dr. Lemmon organized a series of workshops for the 2018 International Neural Regeneration Symposium, including a popular practicum on machine learning techniques for biologists titled “Using machine learning to identify targets and anti-targets for axon regeneration.” By popular demand, Dr. Lemmon continued his machine learning workshops at the symposium, with this year’s virtual seminar attracting more than 7,000 participants.
For more detailed information, read Dr. Lemmon’s article titled “The Life of a Trailing Spouse” in the Journal of Neuroscience autobiographical column “Progressions.”