Prestigious 2023 Turnbull-Tator Award in Spinal Cord Injury and Concussion Research Presented to CHU de Québec-Université Laval Researcher

Since 2001, Brain Canada and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research have collaborated to champion outstanding research in the field of spinal cord and/or brain injury, striving to improve the lives of those affected, as a tribute to Barbara Turnbull, who suffered an extremely severe injury when she was shot during a robbery in 1983.

Together, these foundations created the Turnbull-Tator Award in Spinal Cord Injury and Concussion Research, which recognizes exceptional publications by researchers in Canada conducting research in this field.

“By fueling innovation and collaboration in spinal cord injury research, we’re paving the way for breakthroughs that could one day restore mobility and independence. We are very proud of our longstanding partnership with the Barbara Turnbull Foundation, understanding that each year, we offer increased hope for individuals impacted by spinal cord and brain injuries.”

Dr. Viviane Poupon, President and CEO of Brain Canada

The 2023 award aims to recognize an outstanding publication by a researcher at a Canadian institution in the field of spinal cord and/or brain injury research, including concussion, with a $50,000 prize. Brain Canada, through the Canada Brain Research Fund, and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research will each contribute $25,000 to support this year’s award.

Dr. Frédéric Bretzner, a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences of the Faculty of Medicine at the Université Laval and a researcher at the Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec-Université Laval, has been selected to receive the 2023 Turnbull-Tator Award for his publication titled “Functional contribution of mesencephalic locomotor region nuclei to locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury”, authored with Marie Roussel, David Lafrance-Zoubga, Nicolas Josset, and Maxime Lemieux, and featured in Cell Reports Medicine. Dr. Bretzner was also recognized for his research project that aims to discover new tools that may soon be used to enhance locomotor recovery in individuals affected by spinal cord injuries.

When an individual injures their spinal cord, it’s not always a complete break. Even though the injury often disrupts communication between the brain and the body, the brain is still able to access circuits in the spinal cord below the injury. While this connection is usually inactive and considered dormant, recent studies have found that by stimulating certain parts of the brain above the injury, this inactive connection can be woken up and used to help people recover some movement after spinal cord injury. However, because these areas are deep inside the brain, it can be difficult to stimulate them using usual methods like deep brain stimulation.

That’s where Dr. Bretzner’s use of optogenetics, a technique that uses light to control cells in the brain, comes in. By using optogenetics, Dr. Bretzner and his team might be able to activate these deep brain areas more precisely and effectively, helping people recover even more movement after spinal cord injury.

“Our current work reveals that genetic tools could offer powerful tools to probe and more specifically activate neural circuits for functional outcome after spinal cord injury. Our goal is therefore to evaluate these new technologies and tools in animal models prior to assessing their potential clinical translation in patients suffering from spinal cord or brain injury.”

Dr. Bretzner

Each year, the recipient of the Turnbull-Tator Award participates in the Tator-Turnbull Spinal Cord Injury Symposium. This event offers the recipient a platform to present their research findings to peers in the field and engage in conversations about the current state and future prospects of spinal cord and brain injury research.

Dr. Michael Fehlings hosts and chairs Symposium each year to honour Dr. Charles Tator and Barbara Turnbull, who shared a special doctor-patient friendship. The event recognizes their enormous contribution, energy and drive in the area of spinal cord injury research. The symposium is an excellent platform for researchers, students, as well as members of the community to come together and exchange ideas that continue to advance the field of spinal cord injury patient management. Dr. Bretzner will present at the 2024 Symposium on Thursday, May 23rd.

This funding 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.