Brain Canada and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research are pleased to announce that Dr. Steve Lacroix has been selected by an international panel to receive the 2020 Turnbull-Tator Award in Spinal Cord Injury and Concussion Research. Dr. Lacroix is being recognized for his publication “Microglia are an essential component of the neuroprotective scar that forms after spinal cord injury,” published in Nature Communications in 2019.

Since 2001, in honour of Barbara Turnbull, Brain Canada and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation have been partnering to support the need for exceptional research in the area of spinal cord and/or brain injury to improve the lives of those affected. Co-sponsored by the foundations, the Turnbull-Tator Award recognizes an outstanding publication by a Canadian researcher in the field. Selected based on the innovation and impact of the research and its findings, the recipient of the Award is provided with a $50,000 grant to continue their research and contribute towards advancing the research area.

“Barbara was a dedicated advocate for raising awareness and drawing public attention to the importance of recognizing and supporting excellence in Canadian-based research in areas relevant to spinal cord injury remediation and concussion assessment and treatment,” says Gary Goldberg, a director of the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research. “It is a privilege to carry out her legacy through the Barbara Turnbull Foundation as she continues to be an inspiration for those working to make a difference in this field.”

Nominated by Dr. Serge Rivest, Dr. Lacroix is a leading Canadian neuroscientist with more than 15 years of experience in spinal cord research. His work focuses on protecting neurons following injury and promoting spinal cord regeneration and repair.

“I am humbled and grateful to accept this award in honour of pioneers who have dedicated their lives to research in the field of spinal cord injury,” says Dr. Lacroix, Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval and Director of the Neurosciences Axis at the CHU de Quebec–Université Laval Research Center. “Collaboration has been a huge factor in this achievement, as I would not have been able to publish on my own. I consider myself lucky to have worked with brilliant Canadian colleagues Dr. Molly Shoichet at the University of Toronto, Dr. Marie-Ève Tremblay now at the University of Victoria, and a team of great students, including first author, Victor Bellver-Landete, and research assistants who all played important roles.”

In the award-winning publication, Dr. Lacroix and his team use animal models to better understand the role of microglia – a type of immune cell found in the brain and spinal cord. They outline its effects in preventing neuronal death after a spinal cord injury and containing the spread of injury, thanks to what they have coined as the microglial scar. In addition, this paper has shown that a boost in the protective function of microglia could lead to improved recovery following injury.

“Our sincere congratulations to Dr. Lacroix and his team,” says Dr. Viviane Poupon, Brain Canada President and CEO. “This publication is transformative for the research community and is the kind of high-quality and rigorous research that will change how spinal cord injury is studied while accelerating discoveries for treatments and recovery.”

“The research that Dr. Lacroix and his team are conducting bring us all one step closer to achieving Barbara’s dream of improving the lives of people affected by life-altering injuries,” says Dr. Charles Tator, Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and Scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute, University Health Network in Toronto. “I feel very privileged to have known Barbara and witnessed her infectious positivity and advocacy. She believed that people’s lives could be made better by science, and this is the essence of the award in our names.”

It is currently estimated that there are 85,000 people with spinal cord injury in Canada, with 4,500 new cases each year. These numbers are expected to rise over the next two decades due to Canada’s aging population.

“This funding from Brain Canada and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation is really essential for us to remain competitive internationally and develop innovative ways to understand something as complex as spinal cord repair,” said Dr. Lacroix. “My goal is to deliver the best research possible and hopefully inspire the next generation of Canadian scientists so they can shape the future of spinal cord injury research.”

This project has been made possible with the financial support of Health Canada, through the Canada Brain Research Fund, an innovative partnership between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada, and the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research.