Mary Fossey MSc Thesis Proposal

Title: “Investigating the temporal effects of spinal cord injury on cardiac structure, function, and cardiomyocyte morphology”

Supervisor: Dr. Christopher West (Faculty of Medicine/Kinesiology)
Committee Members: Dr. Matthew Ramer (Zoology), Dr. David Granville (Pathology and Laboratory Medicine)

Abstract: Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating condition, which decreases quality of life and life expectancy, affecting 86,000 Canadians and 2.5 million people worldwide. After high-thoracic or cervical SCI, the signals sent from the brain to increase heart rate and force of contraction are not transmitted, which impacts the function of the heart. This lack of signalling can induce a wide range of complications, which can lead to premature onset and increased odds for heart disease, the leading cause of death in this population. Despite multiple studies reporting the presence of heart dysfunction following chronic SCI, our understanding of the molecular events occurring at the cellular level and during the acute phase after injury is limited.

Our research group has shown that following chronic SCI the heart decreases in size and the pumping ability of the heart is reduced. Furthermore, we have found evidence that this change in structure and function of the heart is accompanied by an increased breakdown of key proteins in the muscle cells of the heart.

Our objective is to study how the size and function of the heart changes at different time points following SCI. We will investigate heart structure, function and size of the heart muscle cells in a rodent model the we have found to respond to SCI in a very similar way to humans. The end goal is to determine how quickly these changes in structure and function of the heart occur and to better understand the initial molecular mechanisms which trigger these responses such that we can better treat heart dysfunction and alleviate some of the burden that SCI places on health care system.