Media Coverage

Kinesiology professor wins grants

Nervous system more radical than linear, scientist says

By Lyle Jenish

Victoria – A severed string of Christmas lights reflects the way many perceive a serious spinal cord injury and the resulting paralysis. The power from the plug, like the information from the brain, just cannot get through.

This perception is incorrect, says Paul Zehr, assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Victoria’s Motor Control Research Laboratory. He believes the nervous system is more radial than linear and the spinal cord has dynamic capabilities and complexities we have yet to comprehend.

To help in this comprehension, the 34-year –old neuroscientist has been awarded a US $119,500 grant from the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and $156,000 from the Heart and Stoke Foundation of Canada.

Researchers such as Dr. Zehr have helped British Columbia develop one of the largest critical masses of spinal cord researcher anywhere in the world, says the University of British Columbia’s John Steeves, who spearheaded the efforts to create the International Collaboration, which he calls “the world’s largest spinal cord research center.”

“There is a lot of activity around neuroscience and spinal cord injuries in B.C and Canada may be the leading nation in the world.”

Spinal cord injury research is often split into two categories. Molecular biological technology focuses primarily on cord and cell regeneration. Locomotor behaviour research focuses on understanding and making use of what the spinal injury or stroke victim has left.

Dr. Zehr’s research is within the latter category. His specialization lies in central pattern generator research. CPGs are large groups of nerve cells in spinal cord.

Triggering CPGs

CPG adherents suggest regular movements of legs (such as walking) are, to large degree, controlled by these bundles of neural circuits. While our brain tells us to walk, the mechanics of the mechanical actions are handled by the CPGs.

Dr. Zehr’s research focuses on ways of triggering CPGs and the self-sustaining patterns stored within. According to Dr. Zehr, triggering mechanisms can very, including electronic stimulation.

Dr. Zehr was one of four Canadian researchers sharing in the US $2,388,237 worth of grants from the Reeves foundation in 2002. The others are Dr.Benard H.J. Juurilink of the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Nao Kozuka of McGill University and Dr. Matt Ramer of the University of B.C.

In Vancouver, ICORD is attempting to bring this research together to prompt peer review and collaboration. Established in 1995, ICORD is affiliated with the University of British Columbia and receives funding from benefactors such as The Rick Hansen Institute and the Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. ICORD researchers have obtained grants totaling more than $2.7 million per year.

Dr. Steeves said that while high profile, the Reeeve foundation is but one of many national and international bodies funding spinal cord injury research.

The majority of research at ICORD is focused on spinal cord injuries as opposed to stroke, Alzheirmer’s or brain injury victims, Dr.Steeves said.

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