Dr. Michael Fehlings, a Senior Scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, and his research team have discovered a network of nerve cells that plays a key role in controlling our ability to walk. The group’s findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, challenge conventional perceptions of how the brain instructs and regulates the body while walking.
Although walking may seem like an innate and straightforward action, it takes many complex processes and different regions of the brain to effect the movements involved. A full understanding of how we walk still eludes researchers.
The prevailing view has been that the motor cortex, a region of the brain that controls the planning and initiation of limb movements, directs the body to walk.
The new study, led by Dr. Fehlings’ former trainees Drs. Spyridon Karadimas and Kajana Satkunendrarajah, revealed that a different region of the brain, the sensory cortex, can also generate commands that trigger walking. This is surprising because the sensory cortex’s main function is to process information on the internal and external environments of the body. For example, the sensation of warm sunlight on your skin is processed by the sensory cortex.
The researchers further found that the sensory cortex sends these commands directly to the spinal cord through a relay of nerve cells. This relay is distinct from and operates in parallel with the signalling route of the motor cortex.
“Our data support a potential mechanism through which the sensory cortex can directly and efficiently control walking in response to the sensory information that is continuously processing,” says Dr. Fehlings.
Future research will delve into the mechanisms that govern the generation of signals in the sensory cortex to deepen our understanding of how we walk.
This work was supported by the Krembil Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, AOSpine, the Halbert Chair, the DeZwirek Foundation, the Onassis Foundation and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.
Karadimas SK, Satkunendrarajah K, Laliberte AM, Ringuette D, Weisspapir I, Li L, Gosgnach S, Fehlings MG. Sensory cortical control of movement. Nat. Neurosci. 2019 Nov 18. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0536-7.
Princess Margaret (PM) Cancer Centre Senior Scientist Dr. Benjamin Haibe-Kains is this year’s recipient of the Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society. The award recognizes early career investigators who have made significant advances in increasing our understanding of cancer and how to treat it.
Dr. Haibe-Kains has established himself as a pioneer in cancer bioinformatics and has modernized methods that are used for the analysis of massive pharmacogenomic data. His innovative work has led to the development of open-source approaches to curate, integrate and analyze high-dimensional cancer pharmacogenomic data, resulting in new predictive models for patient survival and therapy response.
At PM, Dr. Haibe-Kains serves as the Chair of the Computational Biology and Medicine Program and is the Scientific Lead of the Data Science Program. He has authored over 150 peer-reviewed publications that have garnered over 16,000 citations, and has delivered invited talks at nearly 100 conferences, workshops and academic institutions worldwide.
The award will provide $20,000 of funding towards Dr. Haibe-Kains’ research program.
Congratulations Dr. Haibe-Kains!
For the ninth year in a row, UHN is number one on RE$EARCH Infosource Inc.’s list of Canada’s Top 40 Research Hospitals. The list of research hospitals in the country has been compiled annually since 2011.
In the last fiscal year, UHN spent $362.8 million on research activities—representing 3.6% more than the previous year and approximately 17.5% of its total hospital spending. The Hospital for Sick Children and Hamilton Health Sciences were in second and third place, with expenditures of $246.6 million and $195.8 million, respectively.
“We are proud to once again top this annual ranking of top Canadian research hospitals,” says Dr. Brad Wouters, Executive Vice President, Science and Research at UHN. “Our position is a testament to the world-class research that is done here and our unique ability to examine all facets of human health and disease, including foundational discovery, translational, clinical and health services research. Thanks to the University of Toronto, our collaborators, our sponsors, our foundations—The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation and the Toronto Rehab Foundation—and all of our other partners for their continued support of our research mission.”
UHN also ranked third in researcher intensity—defined as the ratio of research expenditures to number of researchers—in the ‘large’ tier of hospitals.
To view the complete list of Canada’s Top 40 Research Hospitals, click here.
RE$EARCH Infosource Inc. is a leading research, consulting and publishing firm that specializes in the areas of policy, research, business intelligence and analysis on science, technology, innovation and the Canadian R&D ecosystem. The firm also publishes an annual ranking of Canada’s Top 50 Research Universities, on which the University of Toronto (UHN’s affiliated university) is ranked first.
Research conducted at UHN's research institutes spans the full spectrum of diseases and disciplines, including cancer, cardiovascular sciences, transplantation, neural and sensory sciences, musculoskeletal health, rehabilitation sciences, and community and population health.
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