After surviving possibly the wettest month ever recorded in Vancouver, we’re happy to bring you some positive news. This special trainee-focussed issue of the ICORDian was written by and about some great ICORD students. We hope you enjoy these stories:
And these regular features:
by Jocelyn Chan
In the Fall 2020 issue of the ICORDian, we ran a story on the importance of studying sex differences in fall mechanism research and the Sparrey Lab’s acquisition of a new female crash test dummy – one of the first in Canada.
There has been a major push in biomedical research to examine sex differences across a range of biomedical research areas, including in ICORD labs. In this story, we look at MSc candidate Analisa Jia’s work on analyzing the risk for cardiovascular disease, based on sex differences, for people with spinal cord injuries.
Analisa (right) is a second-year MSc student in Pharmaceutical Sciences, co-supervised by Dr. Jacquelyn Cragg and Dr. Chris West. Her research is focused on leveraging clinical and population data sources to identify the risk of cardiovascular outcomes among individuals with SCI. “I’m especially interested in understanding the sex-specific differences in the risk estimates and how that could be utilized to improve targeted treatment and prevention strategies,” said Analisa.
Analisa is approaching her research question from an epidemiological perspective with Dr. Cragg while utilizing a physiological perspective, such as investigating changes in the heart and blood vessels, with Dr. West. “Dr. Cragg’s expertise guided my knowledge expansion on the use of epidemiological approaches and machine-learning algorithms to model risk estimates and identify risk factors. On the other hand, Dr. West provided me with insight on the physiological aspects of spinal cord injury, which inspired me to explore further into the underlying mechanism of the sex differences in the spinal cord injury population,” said Analisa.
Analisa is combining machine-based modelling and statistical analysis using R while drawing from various databases including large Canadian national-wide data, SCI community data, and large inpatient hospitalization records from the US. To learn more, watch this short video of Analisa’s 3-minute thesis as a UBC 3MT Semi-Finalist.
So far, using large population-level data, Analisa has found that individuals living with SCI are associated with heightened odds of heart disease compared with the general population, and that within the SCI community, males exhibit higher odds of heart disease than females. Additionally, relative to able-bodied individuals, SCI amplifies sex-related differences in heart disease.
Knowledge of sex differences in cardiovascular risk has helped researchers and health practitioners raise awareness of sex-specific consequences, and guide policies to reduce cardiovascular outcomes. “I believe that the sex differences of cardiovascular risk in the SCI population cannot be overlooked,” said Analisa. She hopes her research findings will address the knowledge gap concerning the sex-specific risk estimates of heart disease among people with SCI, and reveal a window of sex-specific targeted interventions to prevent or reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease and improve the quality of life for people with SCI. Looking to the future, discoveries of sex differences in all realms of biomedical and health research could have promising implications for more effective targeted prevention and treatment strategies.
by Jocelyn Chan
Michelle Poovathukaran is a third year UBC Biology undergraduate and volunteer in Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff’s lab. She first joined the lab last year while all coursework was being conducted virtually. “Due to the pandemic, it became quite difficult to gain lab experience through courses provided at UBC. I learned about Dr. Tetzlaff’s work and lab and reached out to see if his lab had any openings,” said Michelle. Currently, she is assisting in the lab’s ongoing ketogenic diet project (see our previous ICORDian article and SCInfo blog post on this topic). Michelle performs Western blots on samples taken at various time points after injury to assess mitochondrial recovery after a ketogenic diet. Michelle hopes to continue her career in research. “My future goals involve working on research that incorporates both biology and psychology. My work at ICORD is great because I’m learning new techniques that I can apply to my future career!” said Michelle.
by Jocelyn Chan
Have you heard of using hot sauce for pain relief? ICORD researcher Dr. Lukas Linde, a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. John Kramer, is studying the effectiveness of using capsaicin, the ‘hot’ active ingredient in chilli peppers, to treat neuropathic pain using a low concentration of capsaicin applied to the skin in cream form. “Our hope is to determine if using low concentration topical capsaicin for prolonged periods will be effective to help manage burning neuropathic pain,” said Dr. Linde.
Neuropathic pain is a type of pain that arises from nerve damage. The prevalence of neuropathic pain in people living with SCI is estimated to be 50-80%, with variability in reported sensations (e.g. burning, tingling, electrical sensations etc). Burning sensations are among the most commonly-reported neuropathic pain profiles, which is the main motivation for Dr. Linde and his colleagues to study capsaicin’s effectiveness in this type of pain. “We want to know if we can specifically target the pain receptors that are responsible for burning pain sensations,” said Dr. Linde.
High concentration capsaicin has already been shown to knock out burning pain receptors in the skin, but “the application of high concentration is incredibly painful. It often requires lidocaine injections and physician supervision. In contrast, low concentration topical capsaicin is available for use over the counter, and is tolerable for self-administered applications,” said Dr. Linde. To investigate the effectiveness of low concentration capsaicin, Dr. Linde is recruiting participants with neuropathic pain for a study. Participants who are randomized into the experimental group are asked to apply a topical capsaicin cream for 20 days where burning pain persists.
Ideally, low concentration capsaicin will reduce pain by “burning out” peripheral pain receptors, as well as preventing future development of pain in the surrounding areas, but do so without the painful sensation associated with high concentration capsaicin. “We hope to see similar findings [to studies using high concentration capsaicin] in our new project. If we can use low concentration topical capsaicin in young healthy adults to substantially reduce heat pain sensations, we hope this will translate into reduced burning like neuropathic pain for those living with SCI,” said Dr. Linde.
Interested in participating? Check out the study posting or contact Dr. Linde for more information.
by Jocelyn Chan
Shahriar Shahlileh is a first year Biomedical Engineering PhD student in Dr. Dena Shahriari’s BioAugmentative Interfaces Lab. Before coming to ICORD, Shahriar completed his BSc. and MSc. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Tehran, with a specialization in micro and nanoelectronic devices.
Being able to work on implantable devices and optogenetics was the reason Shahriar came to Vancouver. After completing his MSc, Shahriar had been planning to pursue his doctoral studies at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). “I was almost set on continuing my academic career at EPFL, but then I saw an MIT Linkedin post about Dr. Shahriari’s work. I got extremely excited about her field of expertise and sent her an email right away!” said Shahriar.
Under Dr. Shahriari’s supervision, Shahriar and his colleagues have developed a wirelessly-rechargeable implantable device to optically stimulate damaged axons. This allows them to study the effect of optogenetic stimulation on neural growth and functional synapse formation. “The cornerstone of the implantable devices that we developed is the LED and the driver circuit, along with the wireless power transmission circuit. In addition to device fabrication, we will study behavioural data and use histological assessments to evaluate the results after device implantation,”, said Shahriar.
So far, Shahriar has mostly enjoyed his time in Vancouver, and is loving the multi-disciplinary environment at ICORD. Vancouver’s weather might be a bit of a drawback, though. “There are not as many sunny days as Tehran, and I’m still struggling with that! But even though the weather gets pretty harsh at some points, Vancouver is still quite beautiful,” he said.
by Jocelyn Chan
In the Summer 2021 issue, we highlighted several easy-to-read summaries of scientific papers by ICORD researchers. These are prepared by student volunteers at ICORD’s Community Resource Centre, who help keep our SCInfo Blog up and running with interesting summaries of published SCI research. Since the summer, we’ve added several new blog posts, including:
Cardiac conditions six months after SCI
Baldip Shergill summarized research by Dr. Andrei Krassioukov, Shane Balthazaar and their colleagues about the frequency of arrhythmias following SCI. Strikingly, researchers found that immediately after injury, people sustaining a cervical injury had lower heart rates than those with thoracic injury. However, this difference levels out around six months post-injury, suggesting that heart rate improves over time.
How physical activity can change the heart in individuals with SCI
Ryan Cen prepared a summary of an article by Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, Dr. Christopher West, and their colleagues which investigated the effects of a “ProACTIVE” physical activity regimen on the structure and function of the heart in people with SCI. Following physical activity, researchers found changes to heart structure following physical activity but these changes were only observed for people with a level of injury below T6.
Wheelchair users’ perspectives on usability of adaptive equipment for exercise
Arman Mohseni summarized a mixed-methods study by Dr. Ben Mortenson, Dr. Jaimie Borisoff, Dr. Bonita Sawatzky, and their colleagues on how effective wheelchair users found the adaptive rower (aROW) compared to the arm crank ergometer (ACE) machine. The study reported a high level of satisfaction and efficiency of both machines but with participants describing the aROW as a more enjoyable and effective method of exercise.
We’re very grateful for the work that Resource Centre volunteers do to keep our SCInfo Blog up to date with new research summaries. There are new items being posted on a regular basis so be sure to check in to see what’s new!
by Jocelyn Chan
Since 2010, ICORD has had a committee of dedicated students who volunteer their time to organize research, community outreach, and social activities. We’re happy to introduce three members of this year’s ICORD Trainee Committee (ITC) to learn more about their roles on the ITC, and the research they’re doing. Meet ITC co-chairs Katlyn Richardson and Nicole Bailey, and treasurer Adam Doelman.
ITC Co-chair Katlyn Richardson is a fourth year PhD student in Dr. David Granville’s lab. Kate is a dedicated member of the ITC and has been part of the committee for the past three years. As the co-chair, she helps facilitate the goals and objectives of the ITC, and also mentors newer members of the committee. Kate is excited about the return of in-person events. “We still plan to provide opportunities for virtual attendance, but we’ll have many more events geared towards socializing and networking. We will also be building on the ITC Wellness Week and Orientation Week events that were such a hit last year!” said Kate. When she’s not wearing her ITC hat, Kate does research combining the disciplines of pathology, dermatology, immunology, and proteomics to develop novel therapeutic approaches for the management of chronic wounds and inflammatory disorders. In her free time, Kate enjoys “travelling and being by the water,” so when she’s not in Vancouver, she spend most of her time between Cultus Lake and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Kate’s ITC co-chair is Nicole Bailey of Dr. John Kramer’s lab, who is currently wrapping up her first year of an MSc in Experimental Medicine. Nicole organized the 2021 Trainee Symposium and this is her second year on the ITC. Like Kate, Nicole is excited that the ITC plans to host in-person events. “After so long apart with COVID, it will be wonderful to see everyone in real life,” said Nicole. Nicole’s research focuses on pain. “As a debilitating invisible condition, chronic pain wreaks havoc in the lives of around one in five Canadians,” she said. Nicole’s thesis investigates behavioural analysis of pain experiences using various pain tests and physiological measures such as heart rate variability, ECG, and thermal imaging. She’s also excited about a review she is conducting on the Indigenous experience of pain in Canada. Her project summarizes the current papers in the field and identifies areas that could be further developed. Nicole and her colleagues recently published a review assessing key areas in interventional trials involving people with SCI (injury level, severity, and etiology). When she’s not working, Nicole enjoys spending time outdoors. “In the summers I spend all my free time outside hiking!” said Nicole.
Adam Doelman is a PhD candidate in his third year of the Neuroscience program, and this is also his third year as the ITC treasurer! He’s responsible for all things finance, from organizing budget proposals to reimbursement. “The ITC aims to organize more in-person events, seminars and workshops this year to encourage trainees and staff to interact in a safe environment . . . which will often include pizza!” said Adam. Adam’s current research project in Dr. Brian Kwon’s lab involves assessing bladder function after SCI by comparing bladder pressure readings obtained from a new wireless monitoring device known as the UroMonitor against the clinical “gold-standard” bladder assessment technique, called pressure-flow cystometry or urodynamics. “Our goal is to test and develop the UroMonitor, which is capable of improving the way bladder pathologies are detected and diagnosed”, said Adam. Last month, he was the first author on a paper characterizing the gut microbiome published in BMC Genomics. Outside of work, Adam enjoys exercising, playing sports, and reading. “This winter I’ve capitalized on the Whistler student discount and am hoping to visit as much as I can,” he said.
ICORD Trainee Committee activities such as their monthly seminar series and annual symposium are generously supported by the Rick Hansen Foundation.
ICORD’s Annual Report for 2020-21 is now available, and it includes wonderful artwork by undergraduate student Maya Sato-Klemm. Download a copy and see for yourself!
Graduate student Rachel Lai (right) is looking for a few good men –ten, in fact– to help her complete a research project. She is working with Drs. Stacy Elliott and Andrei Krassioukov on a study to investigate the relationship between physical activity and testosterone, quality of life, and sexual function in men with SCI.“Sexuality is a major rehabilitation priority for men following SCI, and improved sexual function is considered a key aspect of successful rehabilitation,” said Rachel. “Evidence from uninjured individuals demonstrates that physical activity can improve testosterone levels and certain health-related quality of life outcomes,” she added.
Rachel is pursuing a Masters of Science degree from UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, and has been working with Drs. Elliott and Krassioukov as a Work Learn student since the Fall of 2019. As the research coordinator for this study, she helps with recruitment, study administration, and participant visits. “I help to oversee a participant’s journey through the study from start to finish,” she said.
What Rachel finds most interesting and rewarding about being involved in this research is “being able to interact directly with individuals with SCI and hear their experiences. I’m happy knowing that the research can directly impact the lives of these participants in one way or another.”
Looking for something meaningful to support this year? Consider making a donation to ICORD’s Physical Activity Research Centre. The 2021 fundraising campaign will support:
- Salary for five student supervisors for 4 months ($9,000)
- A new HUR system (computer, two card readers and a set of cards) ($1,000)
- New FES bike controller/screen ($4,000)
Your support allows us to operate the facility free of charge to the participants and enhances the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury. Additionally, the funds raised will go towards paying student supervisors’ salaries, thus providing meaningful work and learning opportunities. PARC is such an important aspect of life for the SCI community, our student volunteers, and staff, and we are grateful for your support!
ICORD-O welcomed three new members to their team in September:Divya Kanwar Bhati is the Research Coordinator for the Applied Behaviour Change Lab led by Dr. Heather Gainforth. Divya received her Ph.D. in Public Health from the IIHMR University, India, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa in 2020. Her research focused on Public/Patient Engagement in primary care research. As the research coordinator, she facilitates knowledge translation strategy work to promote and evaluate the IKT Guiding Principles.
Jennifer Duffy is a Master’s student in Dr. Chris West’s lab. Jennifer’s work will contribute to the signal processing and analysis of telemetry data from a novel triple-recording telemetry device measuring aortic volumetric flow, left-ventricle pressure, and electrocardiograph signals. The impact of this work will be the accurate long-term monitoring of cardiovascular function in non-anesthetized animal models, which can be translated to Dr. West’s group’s assessment of cardiovascular function after SCI and various therapeutic approaches.
Aleksandra Jevdjevic is a Master’s student in the SCI Action Canada Lab led by Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis. Before moving to Kelowna, Aleksandra completed her bachelor’s with honours in Physical Education at the University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aleksandra’s research interests focus on physical activity in people with physical disabilities, in particular those with SCI. Her research will be part of the EPIC-SCI trial.
The EPIC-SCI Trial is recruiting!
Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis’s lab at ICORD-O, in collaboration with members of Chris West’s and John Kramer’s labs in Vancouver, is conducting a study on the effects of exercise on health and well-being among adults with spinal cord injury who live with chronic pain. The EPIC-SCI trial takes place in both Okanagan and Vancouver and is a great example of a collaborative project across ICORD settings. Click here for more information about the trial.
This image showing projections of spinal axons to the hindbrain and cerebellum was captured by Dr. Matthew Ramer and student Bridget Bethell using ICORD’s laser scanning confocal microscope. Brighter colours indicate greater numbers (densities) of axons and terminals.
Dr. Ramer and Bridget are working on an ICORD seed grant-funded study entitled A genetic approach for mapping plasticity of spinal sensory axons in the brain following incomplete SCI.
Did you know that volunteers at our SCI Community Resource Centre prepare summaries of scientific papers and post them on our SCInfo blog? If you’re interested in what’s going on in SCI research around the world, this is a good place to look.
Webinar: The Power of Inclusive Language
This coming International Day of People with Disabilities, the Rick Hansen Foundation is hosting a live discussion on the power of inclusive language with Equity, Diversity & Inclusion leaders and advocates from across Canada. You can now register for what promises to be an engaging discussion about fostering improved diversity and inclusion in all areas of your life through the words you choose to use.
Panelists will discuss:
- The power of words, and how inclusive language is more than simply avoiding offensive ones.
- How ableist language separates, assumes, and isolates.
- How to avoid using disability as a metaphor and alternatives to consider.
Friday, December 3, 2021
9:45am – 10:45am PST on Zoom
Live ASL interpretation & stenographic open captions will be provided.
Book your free spot today.
Even if you can’t join live, register now and we’ll send you the recording to watch at your convenience. We look forward to hosting you!
SCI BC’s annual report for 2020-21 is now available!
Click here for your copy!
The International SCI Biobank launches a new website
The International Spinal Cord Injury Biobank (ISCIB) is an initiative led by Dr. Brian Kwon and a multi-disciplinary team of experts based out of ICORD at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre. ISCIB’s mission is to advance the understanding of the biology of SCI and share these findings with the global SCI community. Researchers from anywhere in the world can submit requests for ISCIB biospecimens, provided that the proposed research has undergone ethical review and is aligned with ISCIB’s mission statement.
ISCIB is proudly supported by ICORD, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, the Vancouver Spine Surgery Institute, the University of British Columbia, Rick Hansen Foundation and the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute.
To learn more or request biospecimens, visit their newly launched website at www.sci-biobank.org and follow them on Twitter at @SCI_Biobank.
This great story involving a project by ICORD researcher Dr. Ben Mortenson was posted on the VCHRI website in October, and has been very popular on the site.
Thanks for reading this issue of The ICORDian – we hope you enjoyed it! Please subscribe and have future issues delivered to your inbox. If you have any comments about this issue or suggestions for future ones, please contact us.
Jocelyn Chan (who wrote most of the articles in this issue!), Crystal Han, Martin Dee, Michelle Poovathukaran, Shahriar Shahlileh, Analisa Jia, Katlyn Richardson, Nicole Bailey, Adam Doelman, Lukas Linde, Rachel Lai, Femke Hoekstra, Matt Ramer, Bridget Bethell, Wendy Niamath, and Katie Ashwell for their contributions to this issue of our newsletter.