Spring 2015 Seed Grant recipients announced

360px-Sprout_Lightbulb photo by TakingITGlobalWe are pleased to announce the recipients of the Spring 2015 Seed Grants. These grants are designed to support novel research projects proposed by ICORD Principal Investigators and Investigators, and are made possible with the support of the Rick Hansen Foundation, ICORD and the BICP.

These projects were funded in the Spring 2015 Seed Grant competition:

Development of a novel bio-engineered skin substitute for treatment of pressure ulcers

Researcher: Dr. Reza Jalili

Pressure ulcers are serious health problems that affect many individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI). These ulcers mostly develop on skin that covers bony prominences of the body, such as the hips and tailbone. Pressure ulcers are often difficult to treat and not only negatively affect patients’ health, but also have profound impact on their quality of life. This speaks to the need for finding more effective treatment methods to address this problem. Our aim in this research project is to find a novel method to improve the healing of pressure ulcers. We specifically plan to use materials and cells that are compatible with natural skin composition to fabricate a liquid skin substitute. This liquid will then be applied to the wound site to cast inside and fill the ulcer pocket and promote wound healing. We will first test this treatment on an experimental model. We believe this new method can significantly accelerate the healing of ulcers and improve the health of people with SCI.

Near infared spectroscopy for non-invasive monitoring of the injured spinal cord

ResearcherDr. Peter Cripton

After an acute traumatic spinal ocrd injury (SCI), the injured spinal cord is secondarily damaged by the lack of blood flow and oxygen. Clinicians try to reduce this damage by increasing the blood pressure of acute SCI patients and ensuring that they receive sufficient oxygen. However, there are currently no methods for actually measuring and monitoring how much blood and oxygen the injured spinal cord itself is receiving. Having a way to measure these parameters would help clinicians provide the optimal care to SCI patients and minimize further damage to their spinal cord.

The purpose of this study is to explore the use of a technique called near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to non-invasively monitor blood flow and oxygen within the injured spinal cord. In NIRS, near infrared light is directed at the tissue of interest (in this case, the spinal cord). The oxygen-carrying molecule in blood is is called hemoglobin, and near infrared light reacts to hemoglobin differently depending on whether it is carrying oxygen or not. The NIRS device can then determine how much blood is going into the tissue and how well oxygenated it is. Using special software, it may also be able to determine the pressure within the tissue. We will use our model of SCI to evaluate a custom-made NIRS probe to evaluate spinal cord oxygenation, blood flow, and pressure after injury. We will compare the measurements that we obtain non-invasively with the NIRS probe to measurements that we obtain invasively with oxygen, blood flow, and pressure monitoring probes inserted directly into the spinal cord. This will allow for a validation of the NIRS approach. Our model of thoracic SCI will provide a very clinically realistic setting to evaluate NIRS, with the ultimate goal of establishing a tool that can be used by clinicians in the care of acute SCI patients.

Magnetic resonance imaging for cerebral health in rodents after spinal cord injury

ResearcherDr. Andrei Krassioukov

This grant has two objectives. The first objective will be to capture images of brain blood vessels after experimental spinal cord injury (SCI) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a gold-standard tool for measuring brain blood vessels that has been widely used in the clinic, but has yet to be used to assess the brain after SCI. Our second objective will be to examine how autonomic dysreflexia (AD; episodes of hypertension that occur after SCI) affects brain blood vessel health using MRI-based measures.

Strokes are a type of cardiovascular disease, caused by inappropriate brain blood flow. In people with SCI, the risk of stroke is 300-400% higher than in non-SCI people. At the present time, little is known about the health of the brain blood vessels after SCI. Our lab has provided preliminary evidence suggesting SCI is related to a decrease in brain blood vessels health. Our first objective will look into how and why these brain blood vessels are impaired after SCI.  One possible cause of poor blood vessel health after SCI is AD. AD presents as unregulated episodes of high blood pressure that occur on a daily basis after SCI during routine activities such as having a full bladder. In non-SCI individuals, high blood pressure is one of the most dangerous risk factors for impairing brain health. It is believed that during a bout of AD, these unsafe increases in blood pressure are damaging the brain blood vessels. Our second objective will be to look at the link between AD and brain blood vessel health using MRI.

Overall, our grant will focus on brain blood vessel health after SCI. Our goal is to increase our understanding of what happens in the brain after SCI, and why. This information will be helpful in creating treatments to improve brain blood vessel health after SCI and reduce the risk of stroke. This in turn has the potential to improve both the quality and quantity of life for people living with SCI.

Oral ketone-esters for the treatment of SCI

ResearcherDr. Wolfram Tetzlaff

The existing nutritional guidelines for patients with acute spinal cord injury are merely based on expert opinions, and a standard formula of carbohydrates, fat and protein is recommended. We discovered previously that a diet virtually free of carbohydrates and high in fats (also called ketogenic diet (KD), since it increases ketones made by the body) improved outcomes in two models of incomplete SCI in adult rodents, even when initiated after the injury.

Ketogenic diet is clinically used for children with drug resistant epilepsy, however it takes days to build up high levels of ketones. In an acute setting of spinal cord injury precious time would be lost since spinal cord tissue degenerates in the hours and days after injury. In order to speed up the increase of ketones we propose here to initiate the KD with oral ketone bodies. This will allow us to more effectively rescue nervous tissue that would otherwise degenerate. In the end we will be able to take an optimized ketogenic nutritional formulation to clinical trial. Such improved “medical food” formulation may benefit people who have sustained both spinal cord injury and head injury.