Faculty Research & Programs

Our scientists have their specialized areas of research and offer training programs for those who qualify.


Oswald Steward

Oswald Steward, Ph.D.

Dr. Steward is the Founding Director of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He is the Reeve-Irvine Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology and holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neurobiology and Behavior and Neurosurgery. He was one of the Founding Members of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, the governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Dr. Steward's research focuses on how nerve cells create and maintain their connections with each other, how these "synapses" are modified by experience and injury, and what genes play a role in nerve cell regeneration, growth and function. A long-standing interest is in the mechanisms of mRNA sorting and transport in neurons, especially the targeting of mRNA to synaptic sites on dendrites.

  • Director & Professor, Departments of Anatomy, Neurobiology, Behavior & Neurosurgery
  • osteward@uci.edu

Harriet Chang

Harriet Chang, Ph.D.

Dr. Chang has been working in the urological fields for over 10 years. Her predoctoral training was with Dr. William C. de Groat, who is recognized as one of the world leaders in research on neural control of bladder function. Dr. de Groat received the Reeve-Irvine Research medal in 2009 for his fundamental studies in this area. Dr. Chang’s expertise is in pharmacological modulation of bladder function following spinal cord injury (SCI). Her studies focus on rodent models, and the control of a muscle called the external urethral sphincter. To void the bladder in a normal way requires that two physiological actions occur simultaneously. The bladder (which is actually a muscle) has to contract and at the same time, the external urethral sphincter, which is basically a biological valve, has to open. These two actions have to occur in “synergy” (which means together). People who have suffered a spinal cord injury often suffer from a condition called “dys-synergia”, in which there is bladder contraction triggered by a full bladder at the same time that the sphincter (the valve) doesn’t open. This causes a pathological increase in pressure within the bladder, which pushes urine back up into the kidneys. All of this greatly increases the chances for kidney damage and urinary tract infections. Thus, figuring out how to control the external urethral sphincter is of great importance.

Dr. Chang is currently funded by NIH/NIDDK to investigate the urethral function by using spinal cord epidural stimulation (SCS) in the rodent model of SCI. SCS is a well-developed and widely used technique on neuromodulation, especially for neuropathic pain and the recent studies of locomotion.

  • Assistant Professor, Dept of Urology

Melanie Cocco

Melanie Cocco, Ph.D.

Dr. Cocco has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry and received her postdoctoral training in structure determination of cell-surface membrane proteins. Her research involves defining the structures of neuronal proteins with atomic-level detail. These structures are then used to design drugs that will affect protein function. The Cocco laboratory solved the structure of the neurite outgrowth inhibitor, Nogo, in a cell-membrane environment. The structure of Nogo was then used to develop a library of compounds that could block the growth inhibitor and promote neuronal regeneration. Experiments to test these compounds are ongoing.

  • Associate Professor, Dept of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Dept of Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • mcocco@uci.edu

Steven Cramer

Steven Cramer, M.D.

Dr. Steve Cramer is a Professor of Neurology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the Clinical Director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and the Associate Director of the UC Irvine Institute for Clinical & Translational Science. Dr. Cramer graduated with Highest Honors from University of California, Berkeley; received his medical degree from University of Southern California; did a residency in internal medicine at UCLA; and did a residency in neurology plus and a fellowship in cerebrovascular disease at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also earned a Masters Degree in Clinical Investigation from Harvard Medical School.

His research focuses on neural repair after central nervous system injury in humans, with an emphasis on stroke and recovery of movement. Treatments under examination include robotic, stem cell, brain stimulation, pharmacologic, and telehealth methods. A major emphasis is on translating new drugs and devices to reduce disability after stroke, and on individualizing therapy for each person’s needs. Dr. Cramer co-edited the book “Brain Repair After Stroke” and is the author of over 250 articles and chapters.


Ranjan Gupta

Ranjan Gupta, M.D.

Ranjan Gupta, MD received his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his medical doctorate degree from Albany Medical College through the Accelerated Six Year Biomedical Program. He completed his orthopaedic residency and an NIH Post Doctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gupta subsequently completed fellowship training in hand surgery/microsurgery at UCLA followed by an AO Fellowship in hand surgery/traumatology/shoulder at the University of Berne in Switzerland. In addition to a busy clinical practice focused on the upper extremity at the University of California, Irvine and the Long Beach Veterans Hospital, he is the Principal Investigator for a molecular neuroscience research lab that has been continuously extramurally funded from 2000 to the present. He has been funded not only by the NIH/NINDS, but also by numerous foundations including the Orthopaedic Trauma Association, the American Foundation for Surgery of the Hand, the Aircast Foundation, the Orthopaedic Research & Education Foundation, and the Whitaker Foundation. He started as an Assistant Professor (tenure-track) with an FTE in 1999 and was promoted to a full Professor with tenure in 2007 based on a variety of academic accolades and basic science discoveries. To date, no other orthopaedic surgeon has ever been recognized with all of the following awards: the NIH Career Development Award from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2000), the Marshall Urist Award from the Association of Bone & Joint Surgeons (2005), the Kappa Delta Award from the AAOS/ORS (2006), the Sterling Bunnell Traveling Fellowship from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (2008), the prestigious American-British-Canadian (ABC) traveling fellowship from the American Orthopaedic Association (2013), and most recently the Joseph H. Boyes Research Award from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (2015). He is Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Anatomy & Neurobiology, and Biomedical Engineering and mentors students, residents from the University of California, Irvine and fellows from the US as well as overseas.

  • Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Anatomy & Neurobiology, & Biomedical Engineering
  • Councilor for the Zeta Chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society
  • ranjang@uci.edu

Z. David Luo

Z. David Luo M.D, Ph.D.

Dr. Luo's research focuses on molecular mechanisms of chronic pain, specifically, on how changes in gene expression in the sensory pathway after injuries, including spinal cord injury, leads to spinal neuron hypersensitivity that causes pain perceptions. The long-term goal of Dr. Luo's research is to identify potential target genes and/or novel pathways in chronic pain development that could lead to the development of target specific, and safer medications for pain management.

  • Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care and Pharmacology
  • zluo@uci.edu

Kelli Sharp

Kelli Sharp, DPT

At RIRC, Kelli initially helped to establish and manage Dr. Oswald Steward’s animal research. But she was interested in human research, so at the same time she was working full time in the RIRC, she earned a doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) from Chapman University in 2008. Her role then evolved from Lab direction and animal experiments to research on human subjects. After receiving her DPT, Dr. Sharp launched into an NIH funded research project with Drs Steve Cramer and Suzy Kim. The study involved testing of mental visualization and physical practice to determine if it can improve walking function in people with spinal cord injuries. The experiment also used functional magnetic imaging to determine brain function and was carried out at UCI and the University of Cincinnati. Subsequently, she’s collaborated with Drs. Steve Cramer and David Reinkensmeyer on studies of ways to improve motor function after spinal cord injury and stroke, at the same time that she led animal studies in the RIRC. We are pleased to work collaboratively with Dr. Sharp as an Associate of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Her appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance brings a new dimension to her research. Dance is a highly skilled motor function, and training in dance is in many ways a model for re-training people to improve motor function after SCI and stroke. Her new position will provide new links that could lead to incredible new insights.

  • Assistant Professor of Dance Science and Co-Director of iMove Lab
  • ksharp@uci.edu