Two new ONF-RHI SCI grants announced

December 19, 2017

The Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation in partnership with Rick Hansen Institute has funded two new Team grants. These two-year grants provide researchers with $20,000 for each of the two years. Developed by the Ontario Spinal Cord Injury Network (OSCIRN) this grant initiative facilitate building teams focused spinal cord injury research and implementation project in Ontario.

The grant program was designed following the May 2017 OSCIRN meeting as the next step to build collaborative research activity in spinal cord injury along the continuum of care. The OSCIRN team-building grant aims to integrate Ontario researchers, clinicians, students and community in partnership with other provincial, national and international research teams or members of research community.

The Team grants will build capacity and a culture of research collaboration between researchers from pre-hospital care and research, acute care, rehabilitation, Knowledge implementation, informatics, health economics, primary care and community integration on emerging topics of interest.

Grant #1 Principal Investigator: Dr. Tuan Bui, University of Ottawa

Improving the successful translation of promising animal therapies to humans through the use of viable adult human spinal cord tissue

Many clinical trials based upon studies on animal models have failed to improve the treatment of symptoms associated with spinal cord injury (SCI). Clearly a better understanding of how best to translate animal-based studies to the treatment of human patients would be invaluable. We propose to bridge this translational divide by using cell cultures derived from human spinal cord (SC) tissue. As we collect healthy human tissue from organ donors within 1 to 4 hours post-mortem, our team is uniquely positioned to isolate viable cells from human adult spinal tissue. By successfully generating SC cell cultures including all cell types that are important for SC function and repair, we can test and validate promising therapies that have been developed in animal models. We will demonstrate this promising approach by validating two innovative animal-based models of SCI developed across Canada.

The first approach is based upon studying the treatment of SCI using pigs. This approach has already provided many important insights into the treatment of SCI but requires a better understanding of the intrinsic differences and similarities between pig and human SCs before the next steps towards potential therapeutic treatments can occur. We will address this critical issue of cross-species translatability through the study of cell cultures derived from the SCs of both pigs and human donors.

The second is an approach named intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS) that aims to electrically stimulate SC regions that can generate weight-bearing and walking in SC injured patients. Currently, this approach has yielded promising gains, but in animal models. Before being able to safely and effectively apply this approach in human patients, we propose to create three-dimensional models of human SCs using cell cultures that will allow ISMS to be fully tested and validated.

Co-investigators: Drs. Mike Hildebrand (Carleton University), Brian Kwon (University of British Columbia), Vivian Mushahwar (University of Alberta), and Eve Tsai (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute).

Grant # 2 Principal Investigator: Dr Cathy Craven, University Health Network, Toronto

Development of the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Translational Continuum Team

This proposal assembles a multidisciplinary team of leading (SCI) researchers that span both basic and clinical research across Canada. The approaches will accelerate the translation of basic science into proven clinical treatments of SCI. The spinal cord injury Rehabilitation Translational Continuum Team (ReCon Team) was formed to address the major gaps between research produced in a laboratory and its clinical applications and the lack of consensus on methodologies and outcomes used in SCI rehabilitation research.

Our team is composed a unique interprovincial and international team of consumers, researchers and clinicians committed to understand how muscle, bone and the nervous system interact to influence the quality of rehabilitation and future service delivery models for individuals with SCI over the course of their lifetime.

The aim of the ReCon Team is to facilitate the development of new collaborations between consumers, leading muscle bone unit (MBU) and nervous system research scientists and rehabilitation experts to maximize the effectiveness and quality of rehabilitation interventions, functional health and well-being outcomes to improve the health and quality of life of people living with SCI.

The ReCon Team goals are to:

  1. Develop recommendations for the use of common methodologies and outcomes (i.e. biomarkers, imaging and clinical assessments) across the translational continuum of SCI research;
  2. Study the effects of promising rehabilitation modalities (i.e. electrical stimulation, hydrointervention, whole-body vibration, stretching or gait training) on the muscle-bone unit and nervous system and their interactions across the rehab continuum; and
  3. Promote development and adoption of promising rehabilitation interventions.

Achieving these goals will enable a shared understanding of the muscle-bone unit pathophysiological mechanisms and attempt to close the gap between basic research and clinical practice through a sustained dialogue and joint accountability. Successful implementation of the grant will advance research and substantively facilitate the abandonment of ineffective interventions, the optimization of existing interventions and development of new rehabilitation strategies.