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Tuesday, February 6, 2007: Halifax, Nova Scotia -  Dr. Robert Brownstone, Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery) and Anatomy & Neurobiology at Dalhousie University, Faculty of Medicine, together with a post-doctoral fellow in his lab, Dr. Gareth Miles, have revealed a neurological system within the human spinal cord that provides valuable new knowledge for researchers looking to solve some of spinal research's biggest challenges.

In findings published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Dr. Brownstone and his co-authors describe a system of spinal cholinergic interneurons that were revealed through research at Dr. Brownstone's laboratory at Dalhousie. The system involves motor neurons, the nerve cells that cause our muscles to contract. Motor neurons that cause movement are located within the human spinal cord, receiving their "commands" from other neurons in the brain and spinal cord. This newly-discovered system of interneurons releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, targeting motor neurons to ensure that our muscles move appropriately.

The discovery of this system has significant implications for how doctors and researchers understand and treat diseases such as ALS or injuries to the human spinal cord. These ailments cause motor neurons to malfunction and not respond properly to commands, or in the case of injury, prevent these commands from reaching the spinal cord at all. Dr. Brownstone's findings suggest a new variable that researchers will have to consider in their attempts to re-establish motor systems following injury. Also, because this new system is located within the spinal cord itself and survives following injury, Dr. Brownstone believes that it might be harnessed as a valuable tool in the rehabilitation process.

"One of the aims in the treatment of spinal cord injury is to re-establish connections from the brain to the spinal cord," says Dr. Brownstone. "To ensure appropriate movement, it is essential that the motor neurons respond appropriately following any such regeneration. Knowledge of this system of spinal cholinergic interneurons will help to ensure that this could be accomplished."

The article, published this week in the online edition of the journal, was written in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Todd and Dr. Robert Harley at the University of Glasgow. Dr. Miles is now a faculty member at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland. The research was made possible with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Dr. Robert Brownstone is a member of the Brain Repair Centre, a multidisciplinary collaboration linking world-class researchers and physicians specializing in groundbreaking treatments and technologies in the field of brain and spinal cord repair. He also currently serves as the Faculty of Medicine's Assistant Dean of Research - Clinical Departments. His work has received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Project A.L.S. and the Christopher Reeve Foundation. Recently, he was the principle investigator on a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation totaling over $5.5 million, one of the largest single grants ever received by Dalhousie University. 

For further information, contact: 

Ryan McNutt, Communications Office, Dalhousie Medical School, 902.494.1900, ryan.mcnutt@dal.ca


 

Monday, March 12, 2007: Halifax, Nova Scotia -  A research team led by Dr. Allen Finley, Professor of Anesthesia and Psychology at Dalhousie University and physician with the IWK Health Centre, has been awarded $1 million in funding through the Teasdale-Corti Team Grants Program to develop a pediatric pain management program in Thailand.

The project pairs Dr. Finley with Dr. Somboon Thienthong, Professor of Anesthesiology at Khon Kaen University in Thailand. Together, they will lead a team in developing a community of practice among provincial and regional hospitals in northeastern Thailand with standardized approaches to ensure the best possible pain prevention and treatment for children. At the same time, they will also study the process of disseminating information and changing practice, which will help develop approaches to control other diseases and conditions in Thailand and in other developing countries.

 "Pain is a global health problem, and children are more at risk than adults for untreated pain from surgery, injury, cancer, and other disease," commented Dr. Finley. "Children in developing countries have less access to pain care than those in Canada. Although pain causes immediate and prolonged suffering for both the child and his or her family, it is neither expensive nor difficult to prevent or treat most pain. We are extremely grateful for this funding opportunity, which will allow us to create a program to overcome barriers of attitude and knowledge. The approaches developed will not only help children in Thailand, but also in Canada and elsewhere in the world."

The Halifax co-investigators on the project include Dr. Raza Abidi, Dalhousie University Faculty of Computer Science, and Paula Forgeron, RN MN, Clinical Nurse Specialist in Pediatric Pain at the IWK Health Centre. The research team at Khon Kaen University includes faculty members from Nursing, Pediatrics and Anesthesiology, as well as clinical nurses and a government representative.

The Global Health Research Initiative has awarded thirteen Teasdale-Corti Team Grants to projects that pair Canadian health researchers with counterparts in the developing world. Each of the teams will be allocated up to $1.6 million over four years to find practical and sustainable solutions to solve global health problems. 

Researchers and research users, such as policymakers and practitioners will work together to find solutions to the world's most pressing health issues.  In doing so, they will ensure that the results and knowledge gained through these projects will benefit citizens of both the South and the North.

The Global Health Research Initiative is a partnership between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Health Canada and the International Development Research Centre. The grants program is named in honour of Dr. Lucille Teasdale and her husband, Dr. Piero Corti. Dr. Teasdale was a pioneering Canadian surgeon who died in 1996 after contracting AIDS while operating on patients in Uganda.  Doctors Teasdale and Corti dedicated their lives to improving health care in Africa, and to building the capacities of African health practitioners.

"The Teasdale-Corti Team Grants will honour their legacy by making a real difference in improving the lives of people in the poorest countries of the world," said Maureen O'Neil, President of the International Development Research Centre.

"The Global Health Research Initiative provides an opportunity for Canadian and international partners to work together, to improve people's health in developing countries," noted the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Health. "This is a unique approach that contributes to addressing several urgent global public health challenges."

The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, responsible for the IDRC, noted that "the grants will ensure that researchers and practitioners from both Canada and developing countries will produce concrete results to improve the health of people around the world."

The 13 successful teams were chosen from more than 250 applications following a stringent peer-review process. or further information, contact: 

Allison Gerrard, Communications Office, Dalhousie Medical School, 902.494.1789, Allison.gerrard@dal.ca

Kathryn London-Penny, IWK Public Relations Department, 902.470.7010, Kathryn.LondonPenny@iwk.nshealth.ca


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