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The Heart Will Go On: The Heart and Brain Connection in Spinal Cord Injury

Research stories February 14, 2021
Dr. Christopher West (left) and members of his research team.

At the University of British Columbia, Dr. Christopher West and his team are exploring the heart and brain connection in spinal cord injury. With the support of Brain Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, through an Emerging Research Leaders Initiative grant, Dr. West is measuring the function of the heart and blood vessels following spinal cord injury. The goal is to investigate the mechanisms that are responsible for changes that occur post-injury. The second objective is to determine whether physical activity that exercises both the arms and the legs of people with spinal cord injury can improve the health of the heart and blood vessels.

We showed that with as little as 10 minutes per week of behavioural coaching, we were able to get people with spinal cord injury to increase their habitual physical activity, which resulted in a 20 per cent increase in their peak aerobic power. Given these individuals traditionally present very low levels of peak aerobic power we believe these results have important clinical relevance and may help offset the increased risk of cardiovascular disease that these individuals typically have,” said Dr. West.

The impact of the funding provided by Brain Canada and its partners went beyond Dr. West’s research project. “The funding from Brain Canada, which was in the form of a jointly funded operating grant I received early in my independent research career, enabled me and my team to conduct some of the first studies in my own research lab. These early studies were critical in enabling me to publish some preliminary manuscripts and collect data that I used towards successful larger grants,” added Dr. West. “Without this partnered award these early studies would have been impossible to conduct and as such I am very grateful to Brain Canada for their commitment to supporting early career investigators.”