Ottawa emerging as a collaborative centre for SCI research

A team from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is establishing leadership in translational research focused on spinal cord injury from basic disease/injury mechanisms, genetics, stem cells and computer modelling to bioengineering and the development of new imaging techniques and clinical trials.

“Clinicians are engaged and supporting this research,” says Dr. Eve Tsai, a neurosurgeon and researcher and the Suruchi Bhargava Chair in Spinal CorHead_shot_dr._tsai__2011et_(002)d and Brain Regeneration Research at OHRI. “The collaboration is amazing.” One recent advancement has been the availability of live cell human spinal cord tissue. Working with Dr. Charles Tator (Krembril Research Institute, Toronto) collaborative members have further developed a process to gain live tissue as well as techniques to use this tissue to understand the spinal cord repair and pain mechanisms in animals and humans.

Dr. Tsai and her colleagues are motivated by the SCI patients they see in their clinical practises. “We all want to make life better for those living with SCI,” she says. “We all want as many patients as possible to regain their mobility what frustrates for everyone is not having an understanding of which patients are most likely to regain use of their legs and arms following spinal cord injury.”

The translation of basic science breakthroughs to patient care and treatment is the focus of an October 18 symposium at the University of Ottawa Surgical Skills Centre that will bring together the various OHRI researchers to share their most current research findings and identify new areas for collaboration. The SCI community participating in the symposium will include neuroscientists, physicists, biologists and clinicians as well as people living with spinal cord injury. The Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation is supporting and participating in the symposium.

The research partnership between the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and the Rick Hansen Institute has funded OHRI researcher Dr. Kirsty Boyd (Division of Plastic Surgery) for her research into nerve transfers in tetraplegia (Nerve Transfers in Tetraplegia: A Multi-Centre, Multi-Disciplinary Pilot Study). This work is collecting evidence of how nerve transfer surgery can be used to improve upper extremity function in people with cervical SCI.

“OHRI has emerged as a significant centre for spinal cord research over the past few years,” says Dr. Tara Jeji, ONF Program Director, SCI. “The research underway is focussed and collaborative and will make a positive difference to so many of us who live with SCI.”