University of Calgary

Spinal cord research

Reeve Foundation grant backs spinal cord researcher

By Rebecca Eras

Dr. Wee Yong, a professor in the departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Oncology at the University of Calgary, has received one of 14 internationally-awarded individual research grants from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Yong’s research on enabling neuroprotection and repair in spinal cord injury was chosen from 155 applications.

When the spinal cord is injured, the cells surrounding the injury site die and cells from the immune system migrate to it, causing further damage to some neurons and killing others over a period of weeks and possibly months. Although spinal cord injury causes complex damage, a surprising amount of the basic circuitry to control movement and process information can remain intact.

As principal investigator, Yong has recruited two individuals to assist with his research: post-doctoral fellow Dr. Dave Stirling, a spinal cord injury expert from the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Shuzhen Meng, recruited from China Medical University in China. Together, the team will work to try and protect the spinal cord from undergoing degeneration following an injury.

The specifics of this project attempt to integrate knowledge of neuroinflammation and multiple sclerosis (MS) to spinal cord injury, with hopes of one day using MS medications in combination with other approaches to help protect the spinal cord following injury and enable some degree of repair.

Yong came to Calgary 10 years ago from the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University. His research interests span neuroimmunology, neuroprotection and CNS regeneration, and his scientific projects involve MS, spinal cord injury and malignant gliomas. In 2003, he was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Year Medallion for volunteer activities with the MS Society of Canada, and he was named to the Canada Research Chair in Neuroimmunology a year later.

Yong currently chairs the medical advisory committee of the MS Society of Canada. Although a basic scientist, he works closely with clinicians and has spearheaded—with Drs. Luanne Metz, John Hurlbert and Steve Casha—clinical trials in MS and spinal cord injury.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is committed to finding treatments and cures for spinal cord injuries. Toward that end, the foundation—named for the late actor Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana—seeks out some of the most brilliant minds in neuroscience and other fields like immunology and molecular biology. It looks for researchers who are poised to deliver the answers that will change the lives of spinal-cord injured people worldwide.