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A team of scientists at the Krembil Research Institute has developed an innovative strategy that could help to restore breathing following traumatic spinal cord injury.
The team, led by principal investigator Dr. Michael Fehlings, neurosurgeon/neuroscientist, specialist in spinal cord injury and Senior Scientist at UHN, published its findings in the journal
Nature in a paper entitled "Cervical excitatory neurons sustain breathing after spinal cord injury."
Using pre-clinical models, the team employed a novel strategy to target a dormant group of neurons located in the cervical area of the spinal cord. When stimulated, this latent population of cells called interneurons was activated and were able to restore breathing following injury.
"The big takeaway here is the identification of this novel neural circuit," says Dr. Fehlings, a professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. "What we found is if we activate this population of neurons using pharmacogenetics we can rescue breathing."
Dysfunctional breathing is a major cause of death or disease for people following traumatic spinal cord injury. Many of the 86,000 Canadians who live with a spinal cord injury require a tracheostomy or long-term use of an assistive ventilation device.
"The biggest implication of this work is that one day we may be able to flip a switch and improve the breathing of people living with these injuries."
Dr. Kajana Satkunendrarajah, a research associate, and Dr. Spyridon Karadimas, a recently graduated PhD student and current neurosurgery resident, are co-first authors of this paper.
Additional contributors include former PhD student and current postdoctoral fellow Alex Laliberte of Krembil's Fehlings Lab and collaborator Gaspard Montandon, a respiratory physiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.