World-renowned researchers collaborating on spinal cord injury study

Study receives $3-million grant from Brain Canada.

A study led by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) researcher Dr. Brian Kwon is bringing together a team of world-class investigators from multiple disciplines to create a better understanding of spinal cord injury (SCI), potentially leading to advances in the treatment of paralysis.


“Right now, assessing the severity of spinal cord injury and prognosticating outcomes is done through functional testing, which can be very vague and does not offer precise measures for how to predict those outcomes,” says Dr. Kwon, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital and SCI researcher with ICORD (International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries).

Dr. Kwon’s three-year study, “Biomarkers for Crossing the Translational Divide in Acute Spinal Cord Injury” recently received $3-million in funding from Brain Canada as a Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI) grant. The study assembles expertise in proteomics, metabolomics, lipidomics, genomics, analytical chemistry, computer science, bioinformatics, biostatistics, and data management. The multi-disciplinary team includes individuals from the University of British Columbia, University of Victoria, University of Alberta, the PROOF Centre of Excellence, the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Rick Hansen Institute, in addition to a team of spine surgeons across Canada.

“We have a great team of spine surgeon collaborators at centres across Canada who are collecting extremely valuable samples of spinal fluid and blood from patients who have had an acute SCI,” says Dr. Kwon.

“To get the most of these samples we will employ very complex analytical platforms, and having world-class expertise at all of those levels is key. Nobody else in the world has this collection of human samples, so we want top-level people doing the analysis.”   

The study’s objectives are threefold: first, to expand currently limited knowledge of what is actually happening biologically in the spinal cords of human SCI patients; second, to establish biomarkers that identify severity of injury to the spinal cord; and third, to create biomarker linkages with an intermediary model where novel therapies can be developed for eventual human clinical trials.

“Investigating what is really going on in the human spinal cord after injury, establishing biomarkers of injury, and developing a useful intermediary model would advance our field’s efforts to more effectively develop and validate novel therapies for SCI, ” explains Dr. Kwon. “We’re trying to establish the pipeline to help facilitate the evolution of treatments from bench to bedside.”


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