Clinical sciences professor receives $3 million for limb recovery research

Seth Bodine

Whether animal or human, saving a damaged limb can prove difficult. Trauma, tumors or infections can cause problems that seem irreversible. Dr. Nicole Ehrhart attempts to reverse the damage these ailments can cause. Now her research has the backing of $3 million.

Ehrhart, a professor in the clinical sciences department, received the Wilkins University Chair, providing her with recurring money for research on limb preservation.  She is the first woman at CSU to be appointed to a University-endowed chair.

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Half of the money was raised by CSU and half by the Limb Preservation Foundation, according to Ehrhart. 

(Photo Credit: Kevin Olson)

“The hope is that with this money, it will make us even more competitive to get those really large grants and maintain large amounts of funds over the years to make a really big impact in the field,” Ehrhart said. “That’s what we ultimately are trying to achieve.”

Money was received by various donors such as AlloSource, a tissue bank; the Limb Preservation Foundation and families who have benefited from limb preservation research. The money goes toward sustaining the research program, providing graduate student salaries and funding small grants and major equipment. It will also allow the program to survive the lows when funding is scarce, according to Ehrhart.

The chair was named after Dr. Ross M. Wilkins, from Denver, for his research with children who are at risk of losing limbs. Chairs are created by donors who are interested in supporting a particular subject. After receiving donor approval and internally evaluating the most qualified people in the department, the decision of who receives the chair is made, according to the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center, Dr. Rodney Page.

(Photo Credit: Kvin Olson).
(Photo Credit: Kevin Olson)

“(Ehrhart) has a big idea,” Page said. “This funding could be used to take her in that direction without going through (the usual) grant applications. (This funding) will last for the rest of her life, her professional life and whoever comes next.” 

Ehrhart has been in long-standing collaboration with Wilkins, and they work together to benefit both animals and humans. Both doctors collaborate to research muscle reanimation for people who have lost large segments of muscle. Their work focuses on finding ways to transplant the muscle of tissue donors to a patient. 

Ehrhart primarily works on animals, but she said her research translates to human application as well.

“Everything about treatments probably will perform much more closely to the human response, when you put them in a pet population, than it would from a laboratory,” Ehrhart said.

Ehrhart is also a surgical oncologist at the Flint Animal Cancer Center, performing surgery on animals with cancer. She has faculty appointments in the College of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. She is researching bone cancer, or osteosarcoma.

When on the clinic floor, Ehrhart works with CSU students and graduate students to research in the lab.

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“She’s an excellent teacher, an excellent scientist and she’s working in an area that has really high relevance for young people,” Page said.

Her research has University significance as well, according to Coleman Cornelius, director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“It’s amazing to consider that our students gain this kind of new knowledge as it is being discovered,” Cornelius wrote in an email to the Collegian. “At the same time, the research extends the University’s expertise in cancer and medicine, allowing us to attract more research funding and more talented students and faculty, whose abilities ultimately benefit all of society.”

According to Ehrhart, the hardest part of her job is knowing that there are people that need her help right now.

“I know there are people that are really suffering and losing their lives today,” Ehrhart said. “We need to move faster. I just wish we had more money, more funding, people and time to be able to do this. I just wish we could do it faster.”

Ehrhart said she is looking forward to the future for new scientific breakthroughs related to the merging of nanotechnology and biomedical engineering.

“We are really at this precipice of making leaps forward to bringing technology to the next forefront,” Ehrhart said.

Collegian Science Reporter Seth Bodine can be reached online at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Sbodine120