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Grant to aid spinal cord study

A team of scientists at Robarts Research Institute has been awarded nearly $1 million to accelerate its work on finding new ways to treat spinal cord injuries. “It is all about rescue, repair and recovery of the spinal cord, allowing people who have suffered an injury to retain as much function as possible,” said Mark Poznansky, president and scientific director at Robarts.

The money is being provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health research in partnership with the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and will go to a team led by neuroscientist Lynne Weaver.

Weaver yesterday described how researchers have discovered that most of the damage in a spinal cord injury actually takes place after the initial injury and is caused by the body’s own immune systems.

The blood cells that respond to the injury are too aggressive and destroy healthy tissue in their effort to clean up the injured area, she said.

In research with rats, the scientists have been able to block the immune reaction and the results have been a sharp reduction in the damage from the injury, compared to animals that aren’t treated.

“The (treated) animal can walk; it can’t dance ballet, but it can walk,” Weaver said.

Untreated rats are unable to walk.

The treated rats also have less chronic pain and more normal blood pressure than untreated ones, she said.

The research has shown the treatment in rats is effective if it is done within 12 hours of the injury. For humans, the Immune Response that causes damage isn’t triggered as quickly and takes about three days.

“That is good news. It means there is a bigger opportunity for protective treatment,” Weaver said.

Weaver said she hopes the Robarts research can move from animal testing to clinical tests on people in two to three years.

The team of scientists draws together researchers from different disciplines — molecular biologist Greg Dekaban, developmental biologist Arthur Brown, and micro-imaging specialist Paula Foster.

Poznansky said there is now a recognition in science that researchers have to reach out beyond their own area of expertise to make discoveries.

The research team is also being supported with grants from the Lawson Health Research Institute, University of Western Ontario and Robarts.

JOHN MINER, Free Press Health Reporter 2004-03-04 03:39:07
Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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