Dr. Kriellaars, of Health Sciences Centre spinal cord research unit: one day there will be full recoveries.
Reprinted from...
Winnipeg Free Press, Monday, May 14, 1990, p. 16.

Spinal cord research electrifying

Doctors blend science, technology to get patients back on their feet

By Manfred Jager

If spinal cord injury victims are ever to use their legs again, they must have muscles that work and bones that can carry weight and stress.

Dr. Dean Kriellaars of the Health Sciences Centre spinal cord research unit is working to make sure they do.

An assistant professor of neurophysiology at the University of Manitoba medical school and research fellow in the spinal cord unit, the 29-year-old scientist is looking for ways to prevent five types of side effects from spinal cord injuries.


The treatment: nerve generation and restoration of function through electrical stimulation.

Kriellaars says there's no doubt that in 30 to 50 years spinal cord injuries will actually be healable and patients will make full recoveries.

"Long before that happens, however, we'll be able to give people back part of their function through the therapeutic application of electrical stimulation."

Kriellaars says such stimulation can only be useful if the movement it produces is co-ordinated. It takes sophisticated computers to control the quick pulses of 20 to 100 milliamperes going to a muscle about 20 times per second.

Kriellaars says the research would not have been possible until very recently because huge banks of computers would have been needed to control electricity and co-ordinate movement produced with it.

Advances in computer science now have made it possible to reduce the size of control units to the point where patients will soon be able to carry the more rudimentary instruments plus batteries on a belt.

At the end of this phase of research, carried out in close co-operation with a spinal cord research unit in Edmonton, Kriellaars says there will be three veritable triumphs of science and technology.

"Patients will be able to get up, walk and sit down."


The Winnipeg research is being supported under the National Centres of Excellence program, an initiative financed jointly by the federal and provincial governments and, in Winnipeg, by the Health Sciences Centre and the University of Manitoba medical school.

The Health Sciences Centre spinal cord unit conducts its electrical stimulation work on $400,000 over the next four years.

"If patients with spinal cord injuries paralysing them from the waist down are ever to walk again, then they must have muscles adequate in size and strength, must have bones strong enough to support their weight, must be free of deep vein thrombosis and muscle spasms and must have a normal cardiovascular system," Kriellaars says.

"That's what we are after, and we're making progress, even though we don't have any spectacular success stories yet."

Five patients are on the stimulation program now. Stimulation of muscles starts as soon as they have been stabilized after their original injury, usually within three or four weeks into their four- to six-month hospital stay.

Kriellaars says about eight new patients qualify for the treatment in Manitoba each year, but eventually dozens of spinal injury victims who have been paralysed for longer periods may qualify, as long as they have the residual muscle and bone strength necessary for electrical stimulation.

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Copyright © Winnipeg Free Press, May 14, 1990. Reprinted with permission.
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