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Grant a super research opportunity

weekendeditioAn University of Victoria researcher is hoping help from the man who played Superman in the movies will result in a successful research project at the school.

UVic recently received a grant of $119, 500 (US) from the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and a grant of $156,000 from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The money will be used to research potential rehabilitation methods for people who have experienced strokes or spinal cord injuries.

Paul Zehr, a professor in the kinesiology department in UVic’s faculty of education, applied for the grants and is in charge of the research. “I’m quite excited to get some of this funding to pursue some of the projects that I’ve had a great interest in,” he says.

Zehr says he’ll be examining the spinal circuits that control rhythmic movements such as walking, and looking at the similarities between those who have suffered spinal cord injuries and those who have experienced strokes.

Weekend Edition
Mark Browne
Weekend Edition staff 

“The idea is then to take that information and try and use it down the line for establishing rehabilitation protocol,” he explains.

Zehr says the hope is to make improvements in such areas as motor coordination and muscle movement when people begin to try and move their bodies after surgery.

Ultimately, he says the objective is come up with “novel” and effective rehabilitation methods.

“A lot of the work I’m doing is actually trying to see what we can do to make use of what’s left over after the injury. In other words, what’s still working in the spinal cord after a stroke or spinal cord injury” says Zehr, whose background is in neuroscience.

Zehr’s previous work and other projects taking place around the work suggest that people who have been affected by strokes or spinal cord injuries have the capacity to recover functions they have lost.

Some Zehr’s work involves having healthy participants walk treadmills and us an arm cycling machine. Zehr has identified rhythmic arm and leg movements and how they are controlled by circuits in the spinal cord.

While brain functions play a role, he notes that “intrinsic properties” in the spinal cord, known as the central pattern generator (CPG), can stimulate movement.

That said, the next phase in Zehr’s work will be to determine how to use the CPG in rehabilitation.