Reprinted from...
THE WINNIPEG SUN, Tuesday, March 6, 1990, p. 17.

Sun Photo by Brian Donogh

ABOVE: Dr. Larry Jordan, spinal cord researcher at the Health Sciences Centre


Medical research
in Manitoba

Sun Staff Writer


there a doctor in the house?

Winnipeggers battling diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cholesterol problems and spinal cord injuries should know that there are many doctors in the house and they're working on innovative projects to make life easier for thousands of patients.

This province has been a hotbed of medical research over the past decade. Remember the ground-breaking RH factor work, spearheaded by Dr. Frank Manning of the Health Sciences Centre?

The medical struggles continue. Here's an update on who's researching what and how the findings might affect your life.


the St. Boniface Hospital Research Foundation, Dr. Grant Pierce works in the Ion Transport Lab of the cardiovascular department, piecing together the clues to heart failure in diabetics.

"Heart failure is their number one cause of death. It's greater in them than in normal people and their heart attack survival rate is lower than in normal people," says Pierce.

The cause may be linked to calcium movements in the heart with a fluctuation in levels changing heart function.

"We're investigating the regeneration potential of the nervous system ..."

- Dr. Larry Jordan

"As the calcium goes into the muscle cell, there are contractions. In diabetes, what we think happens is an alteration in normal calcium movements. We're looking at using drugs to help the heart cope with calcium changes," adds Pierce.

The promising drug? Verapamil, currently used on non-diabetic heart patients. But the same drug also holds promise in treating the cataracts that lead to blindness in diabetes.

"We've had a 90 per cent success rate treating cataracts in animals with Verapamil and similar drugs. We're really excited about that," Pierce says.

Verapamil does nothing for the disease itself, but Pierce thinks it may be used to cure or prevent cataracts even if diabetes is rampant in the patient.

The mechanics of heart disease in normal people is also being studied.

"If you've got a plugged artery, you don't have enough blood flowing through the artery. We're interested in drugs that will lessen the damage or protect the heart from this," says Pierce, adding that researchers have had "exciting" results.

Pierce's lab is the only one here investigating cholesterol and heart health.

"Everyone knows cholesterol is bad for you, but the evidence suggests it's not quite so clear," he says.

Cholesterol itself will not plug arteries, but modified versions of it may be far more destructive.

Doctors are looking at levels of modified cholesterol in normal patients and those with coronary artery disease.


the Health Sciences Centre Research Foundation, Dr. Brian Schmidt will test a new application of an old drug.

If successful, it could enable bedridden multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury patients to walk again.

"Baclofen has been used by mouth to treat spasticity in spinal cord patients. But there are a lot of side effects when it's taken orally. We're looking at implanting a pump to deliver the drug directly to the spinal cord," Schmidt says.

His team researches how the spinal cord controls motor functions and which pathways from the brain are affected by disease and injury.

Not every MS patient will automatically need the drug, however.

"It's impossible to predict how a patient with MS will be in five years. Some have one attack and never have another. Others deteriorate continuously. MS patients ultimately have a shorter life span than normal people, due to complications, he says.


chmidt's colleague, Dr. Larry Jordan, is part of a team looking at other options for spinal cord patients.

"We're investigating the regeneration potential of the nervous system and using computer-controlled electronic stimulation to improve function," Jordan says.

By identifying nerve cells responsible for normal processes, doctors hope to be able to repair those pathways when they're damaged through injury or disease.

"We may be able to transplant nerve cells to the spinal cord. Our job is to find the right cells for this. We'll be trying transplants in the next year or so in experimental animals," Jordan says.

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Article courtesy of the Winnipeg Sun. Copyright © 1990, The Winnipeg Sun. Reprinted with permission.
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