Alexander "Sasha" Rabchevsky is currently a Professor of Physiology at the University Kentucky, and is a core faculty member of the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center (SCoBIRC). Sasha is, himself, paralyzed from the chest down as the result of a motorcycle accident in 1985 which broke his thoracic vertebrae rendering him a complete T5 paraplegic. Since 1997, he has been based in Lexington, KY, where he has been investigating experimental therapeutic approaches for SCI. With his unique perspective, Sasha conducts scientific research with the aim of developing clinical treatments to improve the "quality of life" for individuals already living with secondary complications of spinal cord injury (SCI), such as alleviating debilitating muscle spasticity and potentially grave autonomic dysreflexia.
His major research focuses are to alleviate both hind limb locomotion and/or autonomic dysfunction following SCI in rats employing gene therapy with recombinant viral vectors that integrate into host spinal cord cells. They then express different growth factors or inhibitory molecules to manipulate and understand the abnormal neural circuitry that develops in the injured spinal cord that contributes to the development of autonomic dysreflexia. This is a potentially life-threatening hypertensive syndrome after SCI at thoracic vertebra level T6 or higher which Sasha - like many other people – experience on a daily basis when triggered by painful sensations below the injury level; such as during bowel or bladder distension. He has begun translational pharmaceutical research to test whether administration of the pain medication, gabapentin (Neurontin®), alleviates both muscular spasticity and autonomic dysreflexia triggered by painful stimuli into the spinal cord in chronic stages of SCI.
Sasha is also using molecular biological and biochemical assessments to characterize the sequential pattern of damage to mitochondria in cells after SCI. Pharmacological agents that target and maintain mitochondrial integrity continue to be tested for neuroprotective efficacy. Notably, his recent work has demonstrated that acute administrations of particular agents that maintain mitochondrial bioenergetics preserve mitochondrial populations, increase tissue sparing and improve hind limb locomotion after experimental SCI.
From an historical perspective, regarding his interactions with No Barriers, in 2007 he was invited to the No Barriers Festival in Squaw Valley, CA by Hugh Herr, Ph.D., a member of their Board of Directors. This was shortly after they met in Irvine, CA, at the 2006 National Academies Keck’s Future Initiative, Smart Prosthetics. At the scientific meetings, while Hugh described his remarkable prosthetic limbs, Sasha described the experimental implantation of a functional electrical system (FES) of electrodes into his leg and back muscles which enabled him to stand and “walk” with the aid of a walker. In this context, Sasha also continually plays the role of “experimental subject” in the realm of scientific discovery…for which there are No Barriers.