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Spinal cord research heads new $10M funding in London, Ontario

A researcher striving to help patients recover from spinal cord injuries headlines an announcement of more than $10.5 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) at The University of Western Ontario and Lawson Health Research Institute.

Scientists believe a lack of cell regeneration after spinal cord injuries can be attributed to the molecular makeup of scar tissue that inhibits nerve growth. Dr. Arthur Brown, a scientist at Robarts Research Institute at Western, received $782,455 from CIHR to study a protein he has identified that may control regeneration in the injured spinal cord. Currently, there are no effective treatments for spinal cord injuries.

Astrocytes the major cell type that produces scars in the injured central nervous system receive a variety of signals after injury and respond by producing scar proteins, including some that inhibit regeneration and others that promote it. Browns group has discovered that a protein called SOX9 promotes the expression of anti-regenerative scar genes and reduces the expression of pro-regenerative ones. This makes SOX9 inhibition a very attractive strategy to encourage regeneration. He hopes to further understand how SOX9 works with other proteins to regulate scar gene expression and to test whether SOX9 inhibition improves regeneration after spinal cord injuries.

With more than 12,000 spinal cord injuries in Canada and the United States annually, these injuries affect not only patients on a personal level, but also the health care system. Approximately 275,000 North Americans live with permanent, serious disabilities due to spinal cord injuries.

It has been estimated that the impact of neurotrauma is one of the single most costly occurrences in Ontarios health system, says Brown. Improving recovery and regeneration after spinal cord injuries will relieve pressure on our healthcare system and, more importantly, produce priceless improvements to the quality of life of these patients. Brown is also a professor in the Departments of Anatomy & Cell Biology and Physiology & Pharmacology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

London has developed a stellar reputation for health research and were grateful to the CIHR for their continued support of health-related initiatives across disciplines throughout the city, says Ted Hewitt, Westerns Vice-President (Research & International Relations).

We are proud of the work of all recipients and CIHRs support of our many local researchers is critical in helping us to make a difference in the lives of patients, says Dr. David Hill, Lawsons Scientific Director.


Contact: Douglas Keddy
519-661-2111 x87485
University of Western Ontario

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