Parr Laboratory

Ann Parr, MD, PhDAnn Parr’s (MD, PhD) lab at the University of Minnesota focuses on doing spinal cord injury translational research (from “bench to bedside”). One of the more cutting-edge projects the lab team is working on involves cell transplantation therapy. The team transplants autologous skin or blood cells (autologous meaning coming from a person…from “yourself”) that have been transformed into OPCs (Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells). These cells are implanted in an injured spine to help begin repairing damaged nerve cells. “Our major goal is to bring this to clinical trial for acute spinal cord injury,” Parr noted.

Manipulating Genes to Transform Cells

How does it work? Using genetic manipulation, the team changes the skin or blood cells into OPCs through the use of safe, non-disease-inducing viruses. The viruses change the genetic makeup of the original cells to create OPCs. “What makes a cell a cell,” asks Parr. “It’s the genes it expresses; if you can force it to express different genes it becomes something else.” In this case, OPCs. The role of an OPC is to provide insulation for nerve cells. When a spinal cord is injured, its nerve cells often lose their myelin sheath, which is similar to an electrical cord losing its insulation. Nerve cells cannot function normally without that insulation.

The technology used to create the OPCs is brand new, according to Parr. It was developed by Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon, winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. One aspect of Parr's research is determining how to speed up the transformation of the skin or blood cells into OPCs.

Collaborating in Other Areas

Parr’s lab is also involved in a number of collaborations with other groups. “We’re working with the Spinal Cord Society, who wants to use our cells in their chronic spinal cord injury model,” she said. "Chronic" in this case means someone who has had the injury for some time. The team is also working with the U’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) to look at tracking cells using magnetic or chemical “labels” and developing new ways to image cells. In addition, the team will soon be collaborating with the U’s College of Veterinary Medicine on research related to spine-injured dogs.

Research Focuses

Dr. Parr's research currently centers around transplanting neural stem cells grown from a patient's own skin into the injured spinal cord. She has an active translational research laboratory at the Stem Cell Institute. She is interested in examining mechanisms of functional recovery using techniques such as histology and immunohistochemistry, cell tracking through magnetic resonance imaging, and animal modeling.

News & Publications

In the News

City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul); January 23 – 29, 2013, Gabe Rodreick hopes U of M research could be key to walking again...Sen. Jeff Hayden introduces bill to fund curative spinal cord science

KARE 11 TV (Minneapolis/St. Paul), January 10, 2012, U of M spinal cord injury research holds promise


  1. Parr AM, Wang MY. CT alone may be inadequate for detecting occult spinal injuries. Neurosurgery’s Science Times 66(4) N23-4, 2010. PMID: 20305484
  2. Wang MY, Parr AM. An international initiative to define the role for surgery for spinal metastases: The GSTSG. World Neurosurgery 73(5) 426-7, 2010. PMID: 20920912
  3. Parr AM, Wang MY. Preoperative erythropoietin prior to spinal surgery increases DVT risk. Neurosurgery's Science Times 66(2) N16, 2010.
  4. Parr AM, Wang MY. Vertebroplasty: effective or not? Neurosurgery's Science Times 65(6) N14, 2009.
  5. Parr AM, Wang MY. Minimally invasive lumbar discectomy had worse outcome than conventional open microdiscectomy. Neurosurgery's Science Times 65(1) N12, 2009.
  6. Mothe AJ, Kulbatski I, Parr AM, Mohareb M, and Tator CH. Adult spinal cord stem/progenitor cells transplanted as neurospheres preferentially differentiate into oligodendrocytes in the adult rat spinal cord. Cell Transplant 17(7) 735-51, 2008.
  7. Kulbatski I, Mothe AJ, Parr AM, Kim H, Kang CE, Bozkurt G, and Tator CH. Glial precursor cell transplantation therapy for neurotrauma and multiple sclerosis. Prog Histochem Cytochem 43(3) 123-76, 2008.
  8. Parr AM, Kulbatski I, Zahir T, Wang X, Yue C, Keating A, and Tator CH. Transplanted adult spinal cord-derived neural stem/progenitor cells promote early functional recovery after rat spinal cord injury. Neuroscience 155(3) 760-70, 2008.
  9. Parr AM, Kulbatski I, Wang XH, Keating A, and Tator CH. Fate of transplanted adult neural stem/progenitor cells and bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells in the injured adult rat spinal cord and impact on functional recovery. Surg Neurol 70(6) 600-7, 2008.
  10. Parr AM, and Tator CH. Intrathecal epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor-2 exacerbate meningeal proliferative lesions associated with intrathecal catheters. Neurosurgery 60(5) 926-33, 2007.
  11. Parr AM, Kulbatski I, and Tator CH. Transplantation of adult rat spinal cord stem/progenitor cells for spinal cord injury. J Neurotrauma 24(5) 835-45, 2007.

Our Team

Parr Lab team members


Left side of stairs, top to bottom: 
Kyle Schaible, Laboratory Manager; Ann Parr, MD, PhD, Lab Director; James Dutton, Director of iPS Cell Facility; Maple Shiao (former lab member), Christina Dibartolomeo, Junior Scientist

Right side of stairs, top to bottom: 

Mike Ritchie, Assistant Scientist (former lab member); Dino Terzic, MD, (former lab member); Andrea Karlen, Assistant Scientist (former lab member); Tarini Goyal (former lab member), Sandhya Subramaniam, Assistant Scientist.

Not pictured: Cat Lee, Alura Johnston, Jake Maxon, Cati Miller, Jessica Baden, David Satzer


James Dutton, PhD, Director of iPS Cell Facility, Stem Cell Institute

Walter Low, PhD; Director of Research, Department of Neurosurgery

Shalom Michaeli and Michael Garwood, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research

Eric Holmberg, PhD, University of Alaska, President of the Spinal Cord Society



McGuire Translational Research Facility, 2nd and 4th floors

Links to Relevant Organizations

Stem Cell Institute

Spinal Cord Society

AOSpine, international community of spine care professionals

Center for Magnetic Resonance Research

Clinical and Translational Science Institute