About The Center

The Reeve-Irvine Research Center (RIRC) is dedicated to basic scientific research to discover novel approaches to improve recovery of function after spinal cord injury (SCI). Additionally, we seek to engage investigators throughout California and the entire world in advancing scientific knowledge through sharing results, strategies, and communication.

Based at the University of California, Irvine, RIRC labs are equipped and staffed to allow cutting edge research at multiple levels ranging from stem cells to robotic retraining to promote functional recovery. RIRC scientists were amongst the first to test the potential of stem cells for spinal cord injury therapy, and research by RIRC scientists formed the basis for the first two clinical trials testing stem cell therapies in people with spinal cord injuries.

Reeve-Irvine Research Center

Our Mission

The mission of the RIRC is to find new treatments for spinal cord injury through the collaborative research and educational efforts of prominent scientists and clinicians both at the University of California, Irvine and around the world.


Joan Irvine-Smith with Christopher Reeve and Oswald Steward

In the past, people who suffered a spinal cord injury were taught to accept their situations and surrender hope for a cure. But with developments in neuroregeneration research since 1990 people suffering from paralysis have reason to hope for recovery of lost function.

Over fifty years ago, Joan Irvine Smith, a well-known California philanthropist, played a lead role in the establishment of the University of California at Irvine. In 1995, following Christopher Reeve’s tragic injury and in recognition of his amazing spirit, she worked with UC Irvine to establish a spinal cord injury research center in Christopher’s name. Starting with her lead gift of one million dollars, the Reeve-Irvine Research Center grew to a leading world-class research facility.

“The time is at hand for breakthroughs in one of mankind’s most heartbreaking problems, one which until now has resisted solution.”

– Christopher Reeve

Dr. Oswald Steward, a prominent neuroscientist known for his work on the growth of nerve cells and their recovery from injury, was appointed as Founding Director of Reeve-Irvine Research Center, and Reeve-Irvine Chair in Spinal Cord Injury Research. He spearheads UCI’s efforts to better understand trauma and diseases of the spinal cord with the goal of developing strategies to promote repair and regeneration of nerve cells.

“By taking advantage of the excellent centers of expertise that already exist at UCI, I’m confident that we can find new ways to treat this devastating disorder.”  

– Oswald Steward

Steward’s research focuses on how nerve cells create and maintain their connections with each other and how these “synapses” are modified after injuries. He has conducted research on how genes influence nerve cell regeneration, growth and function, and how physiological activity (including injury) affects nerve cell connections.

SCI Research

Six Resident Principal Investigators (PI's) use rodent models (rats and mice) and related cell culture systems to explore cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to regeneration and cellular repair. A major focus is on enhancing the regeneration of damaged nerve fibers (axon regeneration) and on the use of stem cells for cellular replacement therapy. There are also 23 Associate PI's whose labs are located elsewhere in the University who study neural repair, regeneration, stem cell biology and human subjects research focusing on advanced functional imaging techniques, novel rehabilitative strategies including the use of robotics, and advanced prosthetics.

Scientists at the RIRC address a number of potential targets for therapy for SCI. Importantly, some of the most promising strategies, and the ones that are closest to clinical application, involve interventions during the acute post-injury period (days to weeks after the injury). However promising these strategies are, we are committed to the long-term goal of developing treatments to promote nerve regeneration and repair for individuals with chronic injuries, and this is reflected in the research programs of each PI. The full scope of the research can best be appreciated by consulting the research summaries of the individual PI's.

Stem Cell Research

Scientists at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center were amongst the first to begin using approved lines of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) for spinal cord injury research after approval by President Bush in 2001. Initial research was supported by piecing together funding from private donations, companies, and the University, which provided preliminary data to support applications to federal funding agencies.

Meetings and Public Outreach

The Reeve-Irvine Research Center holds annual meetings and public events to help foster collaborations with other scientists and connect more directly with the SCI Community.

  • The California Spinal Cord Injury "Meet the Scientists" Forum brings together scientists, researchers, clinicians, associates and students from The Reeve-Irvine Research Center, UCI and beyond.
  • The Reeve-Irvine Research Medal Award and Symposium gives individuals from the SCI community an opportunity to meet scientists directly, ask questions, and get a sense of SCI research today.

Each year the Reeve-Irvine Research Center recognizes an individual or individuals, who have made highly meritorious scientific contributions in the area of spinal cord repair and whose research has stood the test of time and scrutiny. The medal includes a $50,000 cash award generously provided by Joan Irvine Smith and the Athalie R. Clarke Foundation. Their kindness has made it possible to continue to recognize the work of pioneering investigators whose work has brought us closer to cures for afflictions affecting the spinal cord. Accompanying this award is a Symposium of previous medal winners and world renowned scientists in the field of SCI research. Tailored to researchers, this Symposium is dedicated to foster future communication and collaborations and propel research forward.


Reeve-Irvine researchers bridge education and neuroscience to strengthen the growing field spinal cord injury research and bring us closer to finding treatments that eventually will improve the lives of those who suffer from spinal injury and related neurological diseases and disorders. The three fields of research that the Reeve-Irvine Research Center focuses on are Stem Cell, Regeneration and other consequences of SCI including pain and bladder dysfunction.

If you are interested in a Postdoctoral Training please email our faculty directly.

For Graduate student position at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center please visit the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program.

Meet the Faculty

Oswald Steward, Ph.D.
Harriet Chang, Ph.D.
Melanie Cocco, Ph.D.
Ranjan Gupta, M.D.
Z. David Luo, M.D, Ph.D.
Kelli Sharp, DPT
Mariajose Metcalfe-Lilliewood
Thomas Lane, Ph.D.
Katherine Thompson-Peer, Ph.D.
Yama Akbari, M.D, Ph.D.
Maya N. Hatch, Ph.D.