Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff

Principal Investigator

Past Director, ICORD (2012-2023)
M.D. (University of Essen), Dr.Med. (Ruhr-University Bochum), Ph.D. (University of Calgary)
John and Penny Ryan BC Leadership Chair in Spinal Cord Research
Professor, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia
Professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

Research Interests

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Dr. Tetzlaff is currently focused on two distinct areas of research. The first focuses on early strategies that will assist in protecting against secondary damage after SCI, termed neuroprotection. After an injury, there is the possibility of a cascade effect, which involves a chain of secondary injuries. Neuroprotective strategies would work to mitigate further injury by preventing cascade effects. To this end, he is studying dietary strategies, like the ketogenic diet and every-other-day fasting (EODF). His second area of research is focused on repair, since you cannot protect against all injury. To re-connect with other neurons and restore function following injury, nerve fibres must grow across the lesion or injury site. Unfortunately, spinal cord cells are unable to regenerate in this way. Currently, Dr. Tetzlaff is using approaches such as gene manipulation to enhance the regenerative potential of nerve fibers. He is also working on remyelination strategies, which involves the construction of new myelin sheathes to replace those lost from the nerve fibers due to injury. In the brain and spinal cord, myelin helps neurons function more efficiently by wrapping around them and could also protect them from additional damage.

Dr. Tetzlaff is the Director of ICORD and a Professor in the Departments of Zoology and Surgery at the University of British Columbia. He also holds the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Chair in Spinal Cord Research. He obtained his M.D. at the University of Essen, completed his Dr. Med. at Ruhr-University Bochum and his Ph.D. at the University of Calgary.

Research Assistant at work in Dr. Tetzlaff's Discovery Science Lab

Research Assistant at work in Dr. Tetzlaff’s lab

His ultimate vision is to combine multiple strategies to encourage nerve cells to grow and enhance recovery after SCI. Nerve fibres lose their myelin sheaths after an injury and Dr. Tetzlaff’s lab is working to determine whether what they see in their models can be translated to clinical practice.

In Dr. Tetzlaff’s opinion, the greatest thing about working at a centre like ICORD is the ability to collaborate in discussion and dialogue amongst diverse groups all working on the same issues, but from different perspectives. Being able to have frank, open discussions, even disagreements, allows a much greater understanding of the challenges faced by everyone and leads to new innovative solutions.

Recent collaborations:

Dr. Tetzlaff has been working closely with the Orthopaedic Injury Biomechanics Group, headed by Drs. Tom Oxland and Peter Cripton, on how different biomechanic mechanisms influence injury, and what happens in the different injury models.

He also works with Dr. Brian Kwon on pre-clinical and translational studies, discussing what scientists should see or request as part of developing a road map to a clinical trial.

Dr. Tetzlaff has been actively engaged in a collaboration involving several researchers nationwide to find an ideal cellular source for transplantations after injury. In particular, he is testing the potential of Schwann cells derived from Skin progenitor cells that were previously discovered in the laboratory of Dr. Freda Miller at the University of Toronto (Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute). Dr. Tetzlaff is also collaborating with Dr. Samuel Weiss (Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy, University of Calgary) on studying another newly discovered neural cell.

Major Findings:

Dr. Tetzlaff’s work with diet produced several significant findings. The ketogenic diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet which is used to treat epilepsy. Dr. Tetzlaff’s work on the diet showed it to be neuroprotective and successful in improving outcome after cervical SCI. He also demonstrated that every-other-day fasting (EODF) is neuroprotective, even when started at time of injury, and promotes neural plasticity and recovery of function after cervical SCI without causing weight loss.

One approach to improve neural regrowth and remyelination is cell transplantation. Dr. Tetzlaff discovered that when skin-derived cells, called Schwann cells, were transplanted into the injured spinal cord, they were able to create a bridge across the lesion site and allow neural regrowth and remyelination. The transplantation of these cells was associated with improved recovery of function. This work is groundbreaking because skin is an easily accessible source and these cells could be a potential new treatment for SCI.

Dr. Tetzlaff’s work on minocycline, a drug used clinically to treat SCI, showed that it is neuroprotective after SCI. The success of a delayed intervention with the drug is contributing to the rationale for clinical “off label” usage trials.

His landmark work demonstrated that chronically injured rubrospinal neurons survive for more than a year, and that these neurons can be rescued and stimulated to regenerate after SCI. This work was recognized by the National Institutes of Health as of “utmost important” and lead to a contract at the Reeve-Irvine Institute to replicate his data.

Techniques employed in the lab:

  • Confocal microscopy
  • Electron microscopy
  • Electrophysiology
  • Genetic manipulation in models
  • Modeling SCI
  • Molecular biology and biochemistry: western blotting, gene expressing tools
  • Stem cell and cellular transplantation

Affiliation with organizations and societies:

  • Scientific Advisory Committee, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (CDRF)
  • Review Committee, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC), University of Louisville
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Neurorehabilitation & Neural Repair (NNR)
  • Advisory Board, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)


Some of Dr. Tetzlaff’s recent major awards and accomplishments include:

  • Chair in Spinal Cord Research (UBC & Rick Hansen Institute, 1995)
  • Nominee for teaching award (University of Calgary)
Members of the Tetzlaff Lab, summer 2014

Members of the Tetzlaff Lab, Summer 2014

Current Lab Members

Undergraduate Students Masters Students Ph.D. Students Postdoctoral Fellows Research Staff
Rafaela Zamataro David Park Sarah Wheeler Dr. Bethany Kondiles Dr. Jie Liu
Saina Nemati Eric McGinn Nima Alaie Dr. Ward Plunet
Sam Duenwald Katelyn Hudak Katherine Jeffris Dr. Oscar Seira
Maria Koh Nathan Holmes Nicole Janzen
Jasminka Tanner Elizabeth Rafaella
Stephanie Wilkinson Haley Briggs
Disha Gupta Aidan Loong
Valerie McPherson Min Lu
Priya Saini Alex Burden
Aidan Beresford
Charmaine Wong
Maggie Chan
Arnav Savla
Vittoria Baht
Shana George
Ahmed Masood
Michelle Pooyathukaran
Rosemary Vayalikunnel
Davey Li
Diana Lee
Nicholas Viegas
Meghan Houston
William Lee
Vivienne Zhao

Trainee Awards

Year Name Award
2023 Sarah Wheeler Second Place PhD Poster, ICORD ARM
2023 Sam Duenwald Second Place Undergrad Poster, ICORD ARM
2023 Hyo Joon David Park W.L McLeod Prize, ICORD ARM
2023 Dr. Bethany Kondiles Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation Fellowship Grant, Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation
2022 Saina Nemati First Place Undergrad Poster, ICORD ARM
2022 Dr. Bethany Kondiles ICORD Trainee Travel Award
2022 Dr. Jie Liu ICORD Lifetime Achievement Award
2022-2023 Katherine Jeffris
  • International Tuition Award, 2022
  • President’s Academic Excellence Initiative PhD Award, UBC
2022 Katherine Jeffris
  • Best Poster, BC Regenerative Medicine Symposium
  • Best Poster, ICORD Trainee Symposium
  • Poster Presentation Award, ICORD ARM
  • BCREGMED Dragon Den’s Trainee Competition Award
  • Faculty of Medicine Graduate Award, UBC
2022-2023 Nima Alaie endMS Doctoral Studentship Award, MS Society of Canada
2021-2022 Nima Alaie MS Scholar Program for researchers in Training, MS Society of Canada
2016 Greg Duncan
  • PhD Studentship (MS Canada)
  • Rising Star Award (Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute)
Brett Hilton Canadian Graduate Scholarship – Doctorate level (CIHR)
2015 Peggy Assinck
  • Canadian Graduate Scholarship – Doctorate level (CIHR)
  • Top Graduating Doctoral Student Award (Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute)
Sheida Naderi-Azad End MS Summer Studentship (MS Canada)
2013 Greg Duncan Top Poster Award, Canadian Spinal Cord Conference
2013-2016 Brett Hilton Frederick Banting & Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctorate level, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
2012-2015 Peggy Assinck Frederick Banting & Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctorate level, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
2012-2013 Greg Duncan Doctoral Studentship Award, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
2011 Greg Duncan Paralyzed Veterans of America Poster Award at the 14th International Symposium on Neural Regeneration
2010 Peggy Assinck Best Poster Award at the Stem Cell Network Annual General Meeting

2nd Place for Presentation at the Vancouver Coastal Health Transplantation Research Day

2009 Peggy Assinck Frederick Banting & Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s Level (Canadian Institutes of Health Research)

Current Opportunities in the Lab

Please contact Dr. Tetzlaff with inquiries.


Dr. Tetzlaff presents at the announcement of the Blusson Integrated Cures Partnership, April 12, 2013

Watch a video of a presentation given by Dr. Tetzlaff on the state of stem cell research in Canada: what exactly is going on in Canada, the provinces, and here at ICORD, and where Canadian research policy stands on stem cell research.

Recent publications

  • Barretto, TA, Tetzlaff, W, Illes, J. 2024. Ethics and accountability for clinical trials.. Spinal Cord. doi: 10.1038/s41393-024-00980-z.
  • Moulson, AJ, Squair, JW, Franklin, RJM, Tetzlaff, W, Assinck, P. 2021. Diversity of Reactive Astrogliosis in CNS Pathology: Heterogeneity or Plasticity?. Front Cell Neurosci. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2021.703810.
  • Seira, O et al.. 2021. Ketogenesis controls mitochondrial gene expression and rescues mitochondrial bioenergetics after cervical spinal cord injury in rats.. Sci Rep. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-96003-5.
  • Mattucci, S, Speidel, J, Liu, J, Tetzlaff, W, Oxland, TR. 2021. Temporal Progression of Acute Spinal Cord Injury Mechanisms in a Rat Model: Contusion, Dislocation, and Distraction.. J Neurotrauma. doi: 10.1089/neu.2020.7255.
  • Yarar-Fisher, C et al.. 2021. Ketogenic regimens for acute neurotraumatic events.. Curr Opin Biotechnol. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2020.12.009.
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