Consequences of spinal injury

How to protect the most important connection between the brain and the human body

November 20, 2015

In Canada, about 51% of all spinal cord injuries are due to trauma. That was the case for renowned journalist Barbara Turnbull, who suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury at a very early age.

Turnbull, who died in May 2015, fought all her life for the cause of spinal cord research. In 2001, she established a foundation, which bears her name, to recognize and provide financial support for international research in the neurosciences, and more particularly on rehabilitation of people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. In her honour, CIHR holds an annual competition to recognize a top spinal cord researcher. The winner receives the $50,000 Barbara Turnbull Award from the Barbara Turnbull Foundation and the Neuroscience Canada Foundation.

In the following podcast, Dr. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Quebec and former Scientific Director of CIHR, pays tribute to this prestigious award and describes some Canadian breakthroughs in spinal cord research.

Dr. Rémi Quirion,
Chief Scientist Officer of Quebec, Fond de recherche du Québec
Photo Credit: Fonds de recherche du Québec

Audio – Interview with Dr. Rémi Quirion


This is David Coulombe for Health Research and Action news. A scientist from McGill University has received the 2015 Barbara Turnbull Award for spinal cord research, an annual prize supported through a partnership between the Barbara Turnbull Foundation, The Canadian Institute of Health Research and others. To talk about the research done on the spinal cord injuries my guest today is Dr. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist Officer of Quebec and former CIHR Scientific Director.

David Coulombe: Dr. Quirion, welcome to the interview.

Dr. Rémi Quirion: Good afternoon.

David Coulombe: So what exactly is the spinal cord?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: The spinal cord is the long structure that links the brain - our brain - with the rest of the body, so all the organs as well as the muscle and bone.

David Coulombe: So what’s its use exactly?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: It’s made transduce, to transmit the message, the information between the brain and the rest of the body, as well as the reverse; the organs, the muscles, the bones that have information to send to the brain and it’s transmitted via the spinal cord.

David Coulombe: So in terms of injuries, what’s the impact when the spinal cord is involved?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: Problem of transmission of that information and depending of where it happens, let’s say it’s at the level of the neck, then you would be paralyzed. Your legs will be paralyzed. Your arms will be paralyzed and you’ll have trouble also in terms of respiration and cardiovascular control. If it’s at the lower level, then you will have paralyzed your leg. You may be okay with your arm, but basically when you have an insult in the spinal cord, you have trouble to transmit the information and often it results in paralysis.

David Coulombe: This is serious. So is there a way we can take care of our spinal cord?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: Well, we have to try to protect the spinal cord like any other part of the body, so when we do sports, if you do, for example, biking, make sure that you have a helmet. If you drive a car, make sure that you have your seatbelt because depending on the intensity of the shock, you could injure the spinal cord and then you’ll be in big trouble.

David Coulombe: We’ve talked earlier about the Barbara Turnbull Award. So what’s the purpose of that award?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: The award is to promote excellence in the research, in spinal cord research, and the scientist that gets the award, it’s either a basic scientist or a clinician scientist. They are trying to find new ways to treat spinal cord injury.

David Coulombe: And maybe a final question for you. How important is research in that field?

Dr. Rémi Quirion: It’s critical because, of course, if you play hockey as a teenager and you have a spinal cord injury, you may be paralyzed for the rest of your life. Now with research, we have been able to find ways to stimulate the regrowth of the spinal cord using electrical stimulation or other type or re-adaptation type of methodology and now we are able to have small success, and I’m sure in the future we may even be able to make -- to have greater success so that people will be able to walk again after a serious spinal injury.

David Coulombe: Very interesting and promising. Thank you so much, Dr. Quirion.

Dr. Rémi Quirion: Thank you.

Date modified: