The Accelerating Excellence In Translational Science (AXIS)Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

Dr. Monica Ferrini

Monica G. Ferrini, Ph.D., has come a long way on her journey of scholarship and exploration. Beginning with a background in neuroendocrinology and neurobiology, Dr. Ferrini has applied this interest to neuroregeneration and neuroprotection after bladder, colorectal, and prostate surgeries. She hopes that one day this research will improve therapeutic possibilities for nerve damage in a number of different clinical contexts. Dr. Ferrini notes, “I want to continue to explore new research avenues for regeneration after nerve damage.”

Each year, over 200,000 American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. For many of these patients, surgical removal of the prostate is the best treatment. Dr. Ferrini explains, “The surgery can damage nerves that run through the prostate, and around 80% of patients end up with erectile dysfunction or some type of urinary incontinence.” Dr. Ferrini and colleagues are seeking to understand ways to regenerate the structure of these nerves, both by preserving the normal structure of the penis (which often becomes abnormal after the nerves are damaged) and by stimulating the function of the nerves still present in the prostate wall.

In a recent paper published in BJU International, Ferrini and colleagues found that treatment with the drug sildenafil (commonly known as Viagra) helped promote nerve growth and prevent symptoms from nerve damage after a similar operation in an animal model. Dr. Ferrini notes, “This was the first finding that a drug like Viagra can be used as a way to increase the activity of neurons. In the future, this approach might be used to treat other kinds of nerve damage.” The editors of the journal especially highlighted the paper as a prime example of translational research, and her findings lent support to current clinical use of the drug to help prevent these complications. Moving forward, Dr. Ferrini hopes to explore the role of the immune system and immune signaling molecules in the process of nerve regeneration as well.

In a related line of research, Dr. Ferrini has focused on Peyronie’s disease (a major disorder affecting the penis) and erectile dysfunction. Fibrosis (the formation of excess connective tissue) plays a role in both conditions. Using an animal model, Dr. Ferrini and colleagues found that certain pharmacological agents may help prevent the development of fibrosis of the penis, a key step in preventing and treating both conditions. Dr. Ferrini remarks, “Fibrosis occurs in aging, in diabetes, and in the kidney and liver, so all the work that has been done may have applications in these settings too.”

Dr. Ferrini earned her Master of Science in Biochemistry and her Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Buenos Aires Argentina. For her Ph.D. thesis, Dr. Ferrini studied the estrogen and glucocorticoid receptors in the brain and their response to stress. After achieving her doctoral degree, Dr. Ferrini took a position as Adjunct Investigator at the Career Investigator Program of the National Research Council of Argentina, where she furthered her research on estrogen and glucocorticoid receptors. In 1999, Dr. Ferrini accepted a Research Associate position at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA in the Division of Urology. It was this move that prompted Dr. Ferrini to apply her background in neurobiology to erectile dysfunction and other problems related to the nervous system and urology.

In 2004, Dr. Ferrini first came to Charles Drew University as an Adjunct Assistant Professor. She is currently an Associate Professor in the academic series at CDU, as well as an Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She serves on numerous committees and also acts as a reviewer for multiple urology journals. She has published more than sixty-five publications in peer review journals, and her work was highlighted in The Journal of Urology and The International Journal of Impotence Research: The Journal of Sexual Medicine.Dr. Ferrini currently spends thirty percent of her time teaching Anatomy and Physiology within the Department of Health & Life Sciences at COSH, which she greatly enjoys. She loves mentoring students and transmitting her enthusiasm and love for science: “I always encourage my students to be better than me, to move farther than me. That’s what keeps me going.”