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Nearly $1M committed to Canada’s first new emerging team in spinal cord injury


London, ON – March 3, 2004 – The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in partnership with the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, has awarded nearly $1 million to Canada’s first new emerging team (NET) of interdisciplinary Robarts researchers who are pioneering promising new strategies for treating spinal cord injury.

Led by neuroscientist Dr Lynne Weaver, the Robarts team brings together the expertise of molecular biologist Dr Greg Dekaban, developmental biologist Dr Arthur Brown and micro-imaging specialist Dr Paula Foster to test novel anti-inflammatory strategies that minimize the damage caused by the body’s own immune cells in their attempt to “clean up” the area around the spinal cord in the days and weeks after injury.

Results from pre-clinical studies of one of the treatments have been encouraging, with the reduction of early inflammation in the first three days after cord injury in rats leading to substantially greater ability to walk, decreased development of chronic pain and more normal blood pressure control. This is associated with much more normal structure of the spinal cord near the injury site.

“The CIHR NET grant will allow this team to accelerate the pace of their cutting edge research project on spinal cord injury using a regenerative medicine multi-disciplinary approach,” says Dr Rmi Quirion, scientific director of CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, in announcing the grant at a news conference at Robarts. “Research on spinal cord injuries is strong in Canada with many world renowned experts such as the team at Robarts-Western, and their work is greatly supported by the many volunteer and public organizations focusing on raising awareness and funding to support research.”

As a statement of London’s partnership in this work, matching five-year grants for studentships of $270,000 have also been secured from Lawson Health Research Institute, Robarts Research Institute and the University of Western Ontario. Dr Dekaban is also a professor of microbiology and immunology at Western; Dr Brown, a professor of physiology and pharmacology and Dr Foster a professor of medical biophysics. The team also works with pathologist Dr David Ramsay of London Health Sciences Centre.

In addition, visiting scientist and student awards were granted to Dr Weaver and student Jennifer Fleming from the US National Institutes of Health for a portion of this work to be conducted with human tissue samples stored at the Miami Project to Cure Spinal Cord Injury. As well, a $160,000 grant from the International Spinal Research Trust in London, UK has funded further pre-clinical studies by Drs Weaver and Dekaban.

For Dr Weaver, also a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Western, this five-year financial commitment can now accelerate progress toward a potential clinical trial in humans. “What I hear from people who live every day with spinal cord injury is that it’s not only important to perhaps walk again but it’s critical that researchers tackle the many other conditions they deal with because of this secondary inflammatory damage after injury – chronic pain, dangerous spikes in blood pressure, sexual dysfunction and many other issues that have a huge impact on quality of life,” says Dr Weaver, who is also a committed volunteer and supporter of London’s spinal cord injury community.