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Barbara Turnbull has been described as remarkable, courageous and determined. Her story is both shocking and inspiring. At age 18, Ms. Turnbull was shot in the neck during a robbery in a Toronto convenience store. This tragic event, which occurred in 1983, left Ms. Turnbull paralyzed from the neck down. Despite her catastrophic injury, Ms. Turnbull has gone on to lead a fulfilling life with a successful career in journalism.
Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital and Ms. Turnbull met when he treated her following her injury. Her passion for finding answers to spinal cord injuries (SCI) lead to the creation of the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research. Together, they inspired the Charles Tator and Barbara Turnbull Lectureship Series—a unique event that brings together doctors, researchers and members of the public for an opportunity to look at the latest research in SCI.
"Through my 26 year association with Barbara she has exemplified all the best in people's spirit," said Dr. Tator. "The team work and dedication being put forth to solve these types of injuries is incredible."
This year, the 8th annual lectureship featured Dr. Michael Fehlings, Director of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and several scientists who spoke about the latest research and treatments. The keynote speaker was Dr. James Fawcett, Chairman of the Cambridge University Centre for Brain Repair. His research focus is on how molecules produced by the scar tissue as a result of a spinal cord injury may block the regeneration of cells.
Since the time of Barbara Turnbull's injury a number of remarkable milestones have occurred in our understanding of SCI, treatment and rehabilitative care. Today, one in five is walking away from a spinal cord injury. And hope for spinal cord injuries continue to grow. According to Dr. Fehlings we are entering a "new era of cell based therapies".
Some of the current research discussed at the lectureship included stem cell therapy to produce myelin, which is necessary to insulate the nerves in the central nervous system. Patients with spinal cord injuries can lose the ability to produce myelin and without it, impulses become slower and the nerves themselves are damaged.
Scientists are also looking at the possibility that we can induce self repair of our own cells by harnessing the potential of remaining cells in the spinal cord. The goal is to induce them to expand and migrate to areas of the spinal cord that have been damaged.