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Archived - Université Laval scientists win top award for spinal cord injury research

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Innovative research aims to improve the quality of life for those living with spinal cord injuries

November 7, 2014 – Toronto, Ontario – Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Two scientists from Université Laval have received the 2014 and 2013 Barbara Turnbull Award for Spinal Cord Research, an annual prize supported through a partnership between the Barbara Turnbull Foundation, Brain Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Drs. Yves De Koninck (2014) and Frédéric Bretzner (2013) of Université Laval are recipients of this prestigious award for their world-class work to advance research on spinal cord injury and find new treatments.

  • Dr. De Koninck and his research team are studying the impact of alterations to nerve cell function in the spinal cord after injury. Understanding these changes will help prevent and alleviate chronic neuropathic pain syndromes.
  • Dr. Bretzner and his research team are investigating the pathways between the brain and the spinal cord that are important to movement. This research will enable them to identify the nervous circuits that need to be repaired to improve recovery of limb function following spinal cord injury or neurotrauma.

The announcement took place during the 13th Annual Charles H. Tator-Barbara Turnbull Lectureship Series in Spinal Cord Injury.

Quick Facts

  • Barbara Turnbull is a well-known Toronto journalist and research activist who was shot and paralyzed from the neck down during a convenience store robbery when she was 18 in 1983.
  • The Barbara Turnbull Award for Spinal Cord Research was established in 2001 to support research and raise awareness of the more than 86,000 Canadians who are living with a spinal cord injury, with 4,300 new cases each year. The prize is presented annually by CIHR, the Barbara Turnbull Foundation, and Brain Canada, to the researcher who scores the highest ranking in the CIHR Operating Grants competition for research in the field of spinal cord injuries. This award is for $50,000.
  • The annual economic burden associated with 1389 new persons with traumatic spinal cord injury surviving their initial hospitalization is estimated at $2.67 billion. (Source: Public Health Agency of Canada)


"CIHR is committed to supporting outstanding research aimed at improving the health and quality of life of thousands of Canadians living with a spinal cord injury. We congratulate the two distinguished researchers who are devoting time and effort to the discovery of new treatments for spinal cord injury, the leading cause of paralysis or limb weakness."
- Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction

"The Barbara Turnbull Award highlights the range of expertise and disciplines that are needed to treat, and one day cure, the thousands of Canadians with spinal cord injuries, and the millions more with other central nervous system disorders. We congratulate Drs. De Koninck and Bretzner for their outstanding work and are proud to count them among the excellent awardees."
- Inez Jabalpurwala, President and CEO, Brain Canada 

"I'm thrilled to present the award for 2014 to Dr. De Konnick, whose research increases our understanding of how to alleviate pain after spinal cord injury. Dr Bretzner will be receiving the 2013 award for his studies of the pathways from the brain to the spinal cord that initiate movement. These are important parts of the puzzle."
- Barbara Turnbull, President, The Barbara Turnbull Foundation

"I am deeply honoured to receive this award. Barbara Turnbull's courage and relentless advocacy efforts to promote spinal cord research are an inspiration to us all and I sincerely hope our work, funded by CIHR, will have a significant impact on the development of therapeutic strategies to alleviate chronic pain, a terrible condition that afflicts the majority of patients with spinal cord injury and is reported as their most prevalent subject of grievance."
- Dr. Yves De Koninck, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Université Laval; Scientific Director, Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec

"I'm delighted to be the recipient of this prestigious award. I hope that our research will allow us to get a better understanding of the nervous circuits that need to be repaired in order to improve functional motor recovery in patients living with spinal cord injuries."
- Dr. Frédéric Bretzner, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Université Laval; Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec

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About CIHR
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened health care system for Canadians. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,200 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

About Brain Canada
Brain Canada is a national non-profit organization that enables and supports excellent, innovative, paradigm-changing brain research in Canada. For more than one decade, Brain Canada has made the case for the brain as a single, complex system with commonalities across the range of neurological disorders, mental illnesses and addictions, brain and spinal cord injuries. Looking at the brain as one system has underscored the need for increased collaboration across disciplines and institutions, and a smarter way to invest in brain research that is focused on outcomes that will benefit patients and families.

The Canada Brain Research Fund
The Canada Brain Research Fund is a public-private partnership designed to encourage Canadians to increase their support of brain research, and maximize the impact and efficiency of those investments. Brain Canada has committed to raising $100 million from private and non-governmental sources, which will be matched by government on a 1:1 basis. The Fund was announced in federal budget 2011, which proposed to "allocate up to $100 million to establish the Canada Brain Research Fund, which will support the very best Canadian neuroscience, fostering collaborative research and accelerating the pace of discovery, in order to improve the health and quality of life of Canadians who suffer from brain disorders."

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