Tom Oxland, University of British Colombia, , Orthopaedics & Mechanical Engineering, Vancouver, Canada

Mechanisms of spinal cord injury-correlation between tissue damage and MRI patterns

Funded in: 2013, 2014, 2015


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Problem: We have limited tools to understand the exact nature of damage depending on the exact type of injury

Target: MRI imaging technique on three clinically relevant models to that mimic the common spinal column injury patterns

Goal: Identify predictable patterns of neural tissue injury using non-invasive MRI imaging


Spinal cord injury (SCI) is caused by a mechanical insult to the cord (i.e. primary injury), followed by a myriad of biological events such as ischemia, inflammation, etc. that further damage the cord (i.e. secondary injury).
The hypothesis is that the mechanisms of clinical SCI result in discernably different patterns of tissue injury in the spinal cord. Varying degrees of demyelination, white and grey matter injury and spatial distribution of tissue damage will be dependent upon the mechanism of injury and will be identifiable using advanced MRI imaging techniques. The group has developed a novel device to produce three different mechanisms of SCI in a rat model. These cord injury mechanisms (i.e. contusion, dislocation, distraction) mimic three common spinal column injury patterns (i.e. burst fracture, fracture-dislocation, flexion, distraction/hyperextension) and are thus an attempt at a more clinically relevant model.

Preliminary findings suggest that there are some key differences in cord damage between the three cord injury mechanisms and an eight-week survival study comparing these models shows important differences in functional deficits between the models.

The first goal of this study will be to identify reliable patterns of advanced MRI imaging changes that can be attributed to each of the three mechanisms of injury.
The second goal will be to assess the validity of these imaging findings in predicting the specific histological tissue injury.

Further study will then try to highlight the same correlations in human subjects.
The long-term objective of this research program is

  • to sub-classify SCI and thereby
  • to identify predictable patterns of neural tissue injury.

This will guiding guide to an optimized and personalized clinical treatment based upon the mechanism-specific pattern of spinal cord injury.