Both brain and spinal cord injuries have a significant impact on productivity, health, quality of life and well-being of affected individuals. Research is a catalyst for discoveries that can improve the lives of those impacted by neurotrauma.
Since 2001, Brain Canada and The Barbara Turnbull Foundation have been working together to encourage exceptional research in the field of spinal cord and/or brain injury with the aim of enhancing the lives of those impacted, in tribute to Barbara Turnbull. The foundations have jointly established the Turnbull-Tator Award in Spinal Cord Injury and Concussion Research, which acknowledges exceptional publications by Canadian researchers in the field and is co-sponsored by both organizations. In an effort to promote capacity building, the awarded funds will be utilized to support the stipend of one or more trainees conducting research in the recipient’s laboratory.
“Recovery of movement after a spinal cord injury starts in the brain,” says Dr. Viviane Poupon, President and CEO of Brain Canada. “Investing in the next generation of neuroscientists in spinal cord injury research promotes the growth of new ideas, encourages innovation, and ensures that we continue to advance our understanding of the nervous system and the role that the brain plays in the recovery process.”
Dr. Marco Bonizzato, an Assistant Professor in Electricial Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal and Adjunct Professor in Neurosciences at Université de Montréal, has been selected to receive the 2022 Turnbull-Tator Award for his publication titled “An intracortical neuroprosthesis immediately alleviates walking deficits and improves recovery of leg control after spinal cord injury,” authored with Dr. Marina Martinez at U. Montréal, which was featured in Science Translational Medicine. Dr. Bonizzato was also recognized for the excellence of his research project that will develop a neurorehabilitation platform to enable discoveries for neuroprosthetic therapies in the rodent.
Dr. Bonizzato was chosen for the award based on the novelty and originality of his publication, the impact of his research and its findings, and the quality of his research as well as the quality and feasibility of his proposed future work and the research environment of his trainees. He will be receiving a $50,000 grant to support two trainees, Rima El Hassan and Dr. Boris Touvykine, in his lab who will contribute to his efforts to develop the neurorehabilitation platform in rodents. Rima El Hassan is a PhD student in biomedical engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, and Dr. Boris Touvykine is a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at Polytechnique Montréal.
“I have always been fascinated by the power and complexity of the brain,” says Ms El Hassan, “I finally got the opportunity to be a part of a project where advanced engineering tools meet neuroscientific discoveries and together paved the way for the development of novel neuroprosthetic interventions.”
Neuroprostheses’ are medical devices that aid and improve rehabilitation by supporting the nervous system, often through stimulation of motor centers. Dr. Bonizzato’s research explores the initial discovery phase of new neuroprosthetic treatments, by testing them on rodents as the first step towards future clinical technology.
“Our main focus is helping people with tetraplegia regain hand and arm function,” says Dr. Bonizzato. “We’re building a neuroprosthetic platform in rodent models of spinal cord injury. Similar to human rehabilitation centers, this system trains rats to reach and grasp objects, using neurostimulation of their motor centers to enhance movement performance.”
The creation of this platform is aimed at developing therapies that focus on the brain and its motor commands to promote effective recovery following incomplete spinal cord injuries.
It is customary for the recipient of the Turnbull-Tator Award to participate in the Tator-Turnbull Symposium every year. This provides an opportunity for the awardee to share their research findings with other experts in the field and engage in discussions on current and future directions for spinal cord and brain injury research.
The symposium is a valuable platform for networking, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing, and is an important event in the spinal cord and concussion research community. Dr. Bonizzato will be presenting at the Tator-Turnbull Symposium at the University of Toronto on November 10, which will be a hybrid meeting this year.
This program has been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada Foundation, and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation. To date, Health Canada has invested over $155 million through the CBRF which has been matched by Brain Canada Foundation and its donors and partners.
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