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John Wood McDonald, III, M.D., Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. John Wood McDonald, III, M.D., Ph.D.

Director, International Center for Spinal Cord Injury

Associate Professor of Neurology


Dr. McDonald graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana in 1985 with a bachelor’s of science degree, magna cum laude, in neuroscience. From there, he matriculated at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he began a combined M.D./Ph.D. program in the Medical Scientists Training Program (MSTP) that he completed in 1992. While pursuing his advanced degrees, Dr. McDonald completed a fellowship in neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and served as a visiting scientist at Eli Lilly and Co., in Indianapolis, IN. After receiving his medical degree and his doctorate, Dr. McDonald completed an internship in preliminary medicine at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. From 1993-1996, he completed his post-graduate training in adult neurology at St. Louis'' Barnes Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. Following his residency, Dr. McDonald joined the Washington University faculty in the Department of Neurology as an instructor in 1997, and was promoted to assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. He also held co-assistant professorships in the Departments of Neurological Surgery and Anatomy and Neurobiology.

In 1998, Dr. McDonald was named as the medical director of the spinal cord neurorehabilitative unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, and section head of spinal cord injury program at Washington University. There, he spearheaded development of what is now a leading spinal cord injury neuralrestoration program. It was there that he also developed the "activity-based restoration" (ABR) therapies designed to help patients with long-term spinal cord injuries recover sensation, movement and independence -- the therapy approached publically acknowledged as producing the substantial and delayed recovery of actor/activist Christopher Reeve.

Dr. McDonald joined Kennedy Krieger Institute in 2004 in order to launch a brand-new spinal cord rehabilitation and research program with a focus on pediatric paralysis, a program that will become the only of its kind in the world. Dr. McDonald also holds a primary appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with co-appointments in physical medicine and rehabilitation and neuroscience departments.

Dr. McDonald sits on the advisory boards of two companies, Restorative Therapies, Inc. of Baltimore, MD, and BioAxone of Montreal, Canada. He is the present chairman of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program Advisory Board at the University of Missouri, Columbia and holds positions on the New York State SCI Research board and the Philadelphia Shriner's Hospital Medical Advisory Board.

Recent professional honors include being named Medical Director of the Year by insurer HealthSouth, receiving the SCI Research Inspiration Award from the Sam Schmidt Foundation and receiving the Reeve Research for Freedom Award from Gateway to a Cure. more


  • Director, International Center for Spinal Cord Injury
  • Associate Professor of Neurology

Departments / Divisions

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. McDonald's research interests focus on the development of interventions to reduce spinal cord injury, promote remyelination, enhance regeneration and encourage recovery of function. In addition, Dr. McDonald is interested in studying the biology of embryonic stem cells, neural progenitor cells, mechanisms of oligodendrocyte death and glutamate excitotoxicity, mechanisms regulating myelination and the ontogeny of excitatory amino acid and related neurotransmitter pathways in the brain and their relationship to neurological disease.

Dr. McDonald also actively leads industry multi-center clinical trials in spinal cord injury repair, having completed six trials to date, including the first human stem cell transplantation study with the company Diacrin. In addition to the completion of an ongoing project examining the efficacy of activity-based restoration in 60 adult patients with spinal cord injuries, Dr. McDonald and his team at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury will soon launch a large prospective multi-center trial evaluating the efficacy of these therapies in pediatric patients in collaboration with the Philadelphia Shriner's Hospital.

Dr. McDonald’s research is increasingly focusing on approaches to regeneration and restoration of function in spinal cord injury and other disorders of paralysis using activity-base therapies along with other regenerative approaches potentially translatable into human therapies.

Selected Publications

  1. Co-grafting of neural stem cells with olfactory en sheathing cells promotes neuronal restoration in traumatic brain injury with an anti-inflammatory mechanism. Liu SJ, Zou Y, Belegu V, Lv LY, Lin N, Wang TY, McDonald JW, Zhou X, Xia QJ, Wang TH. J Neuroinflammation. 2014 Apr 2;11:66. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-11-66. PMID: 24690089
  2. Expressional difference, distributions of TGF-β1 in TGF-β1 knock down transgenic mouse, and its possible roles in injured spinal cord. Xiyang YB, Lu BT, Ya-Zhao, Yuan-Zhang, Xia QJ, Zou Y, Zhang W, Quan XZ, Liu S, McDonald JW, Zhang LF, Wang TH. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2014 Mar;239(3):320-9. doi: 10.1177/1535370213509562. Epub 2014 Feb 17. PMID: 24535836
  3. Lower extremity functional electrical stimulation cycling promotes physical and functional recovery in chronic spinal cord injury. Sadowsky CL, Hammond ER, Strohl AB, Commean PK, Eby SA, Damiano DL, Wingert JR, Bae KT, McDonald JW 3rd. J Spinal Cord Med. 2013 Nov;36(6):623-31. doi: 10.1179/2045772313Y.0000000101. Epub 2013 Mar 20. PMID: 24094120
  4. Potential role of stem cells for neuropathic pain disorders. Vadivelu S, Willsey M, Curry DJ, McDonald JW 3rd. Neurosurg Focus. 2013 Sep;35(3):E11. doi: 10.3171/2013.6.FOCUS13235. Review. PMID: 23991814
  5. Extensive neurological recovery from a complete spinal cord injury: a case report and hypothesis on the role of cortical plasticity. Choe AS, Belegu V, Yoshida S, Joel S, Sadowsky CL, Smith SA, van Zijl PC, Pekar JJ, McDonald JW. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Jun 25;7:290. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00290. eCollection 2013. PMID: 23805087
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