Hansen institute gives $300,000 to UBC neurotrauma researchers

UBC neurotrauma researchers have been awarded more than $300,000 in 1998 funding from the Rick Hansen Neurotrauma Initiative, a collaborative fund-raising project of the Rick Hansen Institute (RHI) and nine Canadian provinces.

Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff, the Man-in-Motion Foundation Chair in Spinal Cord Research, secured more than $100,000 for two projects aimed at repairing nerve cells following injury to the brain or spinal cord.

In one of the projects, researchers will try to regrow damaged spinal cord nerves by stimulating the genes that direct the brain to regrow new nerves.

Last year, Tetzlaff and his research team analysed various factors that could stimulate genes to start nerve regeneration after injury.

They identified one such factor which produces the building blocks required to grow new cells. The team will apply this knowledge to spinal cord injury in the current project.

In a second project, researchers will investigate ways to rescue damaged or dying nerve cells at spinal cord injury sites.

When an injury occurs, bone fragments can compress the spinal cord cells, leading to cell death. Cavities then form in the spinal cord tissue, producing a "break in the connection" for messages being transmitted from the brain down the cord. The cavities also make it difficult for nerves to regrow and bridge across the damaged area.

"If we can get a better understanding of how these cells die -- the mechanics of it -- we may be able to save some of them and preserve vital tissue," says Tetzlaff, who works within the Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (CORD), an interdisciplinary spinal cord injury research group at UBC directed by Zoology Prof. John Steeves.

The team will look at similar cell death processes in head injuries as a second component of the project.

Tetzlaff emphasizes that a combination of cell regeneration strategies will likely be needed for healing spinal cord and head injuries.

Several CORD trainees were also given scholarship and fellowship support from the Rick Hansen Neurotrauma Initiative, including Jason Dyer, Jason Bourque, Carolyn Isbister, John McGraw and Jane Wong.

In addition, Anatomy Asst. Prof. Timothy O'Connor and Dr. Stacy Elliot of CORD had projects funded on nerve regrowth and reproductive medicine respectively.

UBC and Rick Hansen formed the RHI in 1997 to work together to help scientists find a cure for paralysis, and to improve the health and quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries.

There are an estimated 37,000 new spinal cord and brain injuries each year in Canada. Brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability among young people.

This year, a total of $729,000 will fund B.C. rehabilitation, research and prevention projects, in the first distribution of provincial funds from the initiative, part of a Canadian grant package totalling $7.5 million. B.C. has committed to annual funding of up to $2 million for the Rick Hansen Neurotrauma Initiative.

Grant recipients were selected from a field of 336 applications, which were reviewed and scored by a national review panel of experts who made recommendations to the provincial committees.