The Barbara Turnbull Award: 2010 Recipients

Dr. James P, Fawcett  and  Dr. Robert M, Brownstone
Dalhousie Medical School, Dalhousie University
Winners 2010

Spinal Cord's Control Of Muscular Movements And The Rhythmic Pattern Of Walking ..

The Barbara Turnbull Foundation awarded its annual spinal cord research award to two Dalhousie Medical School researchers in Toronto on Friday, November 12. Dr. Rob Brownstone and Dr. Jim Fawcett are sharing the spotlight as co-recipients of the 2010 Barbara Turnbull Award, widely regarded to be Canada's top honor for excellence in spinal cord research.

Dr. Brownstone, a neurosurgeon and professor in Dalhousie Medical School's departments of Surgery and Anatomy & Neurobiology, and Dr. Fawcett, an assistant professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Surgery, are investigating the spinal cord's control of muscular movements and the rhythmic pattern of walking. They are founding members of the Atlantic Mobility Action Project (, a new Atlantic-based initiative to find solutions to mobility problems caused by spinal cord injury and neurological disease.

Dr. Fawcett is studying how neurons develop and form connections and neural networks that interact to control the rhythmic pattern of walking. His award-winning project will examine a protein that plays a key role in the alternating left-right pattern of walking.

"We have to understand how the spinal cord is wired to allow us to walk, if we're ever going to restore the ability to walk in people with spinal cord injury," says Dr. Fawcett. "Only then can we identify potential ways to stimulate the necessary connections."

Dr. Brownstone is studying the neural circuits between the brain and spinal cord, within the spinal cord, and between the spinal cord and muscles. Together, these circuits send and receive the complex signals that allow coordinated movement.

Dr. Brownstone's award-winning project will examine the neural feedback loops that relay messages between the muscles and spinal cord and back again. "Certain neurons in the spinal cord tell the muscles to contract, while other neurons take feedback from the muscles to the spinal cord," he explains. "We are learning how these neurons work together to control normal movement, and how they are disrupted in injury or disease, so we can find a way to restore the lost control mechanisms."

Drs. Brownstone and Fawcett are asking-and answering-essential questions about the fundamental mechanisms of the spinal cord and its control of movement. "I cannot overstate the importance of basic research in the quest for a cure; there is still so much that needs to be learned about how the spinal cord works .." says Barbara Turnbull. "Canadian researchers like Rob Brownstone and Jim Fawcett are having an influence on spinal cord research around the world. I'm pleased to acknowledge and encourage their excellent work with this award."

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