J. Édouard Samson Award: Promoting Valuable Orthopaedic Research

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

Each year the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation (COF) presents the J. Édouard Samson Award to an orthopaedic researcher for work over a five year period. The intent of the award is to promote further research. This intent has most definitely been met, as evidenced by two researchers who recently submitted final reports on their research, with funding through the Samson Award.

Dr. Nadr Jomha from the University of Alberta received the award in 2012 for his research project, “Vitrification of intact human articular cartilage.” Dr. Jomha’s research focused on the biologic restoration of joint surfaces to prevent the development of osteoarthritis. He explains:

“Our moveable joints are lined with articular cartilage that provides almost frictionless range of motion and decades of function. When a portion of the joint surface is damaged the joint is likely to deteriorate over time resulting in osteoarthritis (OA). Once OA begins, there is no treatment that can reverse the process. There are methods that can regenerate a type of cartilage that provides some function but does not regenerate the complex properties of articular cartilage. One alternative is to take articular cartilage from another joint. As we do not have spare cartilage to take in significant quantities it must be taken from deceased donors. This is in practice but there are limitations because the storage time after harvest is 28 days. This short time frame makes it difficult to assemble the surgical team, match for size and location and test for infectious diseases, resulting in suboptimal transplantation conditions and the wastage of tissue that is harvested but not transplanted within 28 days. My research has investigated ways to allow storage of articular cartilage for prolonged periods of time without tissue deterioration. To accomplish this, we have focused on a method of cold preservation called vitrification, which is the formation of a solid from a water solution without the formation of ice crystals.”

Dr. Jomha and his research team have been able to cryopreserve joint cartilage and the researchers have been working with the Comprehensive Tissue Centre in Edmonton to optimize the protocol to make the process clinically applicable. They continue to progress toward being able to bank human articular cartilage for prolonged periods of time to enable transplantation for joint defects.

The Samson award has made a difference to the team’s work. Dr. Jomha points to difficult economic times, with researchers seeing cutbacks in funding. As well, his research does not fit with other funding streams which focus on new knowledge; his research focuses on optimization of previously determined knowledge. The COF was able to provide funding to fill in gaps where other funding was not available.

Dr. Brian Kwon, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Spinal Cord Injury at the University of British Columbia, received the J. Édouard Samson award in 2013 and submitted his final report this spring. Dr. Kwon’s research was entitled “Bench to Bedside and Back: Translational Research in Acute Spinal Cord Injury”. Dr. Kwon explains:

“Translational research invokes the bidirectional flow of investigation and knowledge generation from bench to bedside and bedside back to bench. We began with a clinical trial in acute spinal cord injured patients in which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples were analyzed for biomarker discovery. Ongoing work in this led to the expansion of our clinical trial of CSF pressure monitoring and sampling to other Canadian sites. Taking these insights “from bedside back to bench”, we established a large animal model in which we could evaluate changes in CSF pressure around the injured spinal cord. This animal model enabled parallel investigations of CSF samples for biomarker discovery. Such animal models were utilized to evaluate novel therapies, and we led the development of a neuroprotective agent that entered into clinical trials in acute SCI patients, thus completing the ‘bench to bedside’ loop.”

The funds received through the Samson award were used to support two initiatives: identifying biomarkers of spinal cord injury in human cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples; and a comparison between norepinephrene and phenylephrine in the management of acute SCI. In the first initiative, researchers analyzed 50 patients, using proteins within the CSF to predict outcome after SCI. The team found that the analysis if CSF can provide valuable biological information about injury severity and recovery potential after acute SCI, and that such biological markers may be valuable tools for stratifying individuals in acute clinical trials. In the second initiative, the research team used a pig model of SCI to evaluate how these commonly used vasopressors influence intraparenchymal physiology. The team’s results in this initiative suggest that norepinephrine would be the vasopressor of choice in the early treatment after traumatic SCI.

Dr. Kwon reported that the work carried out under the Samson award was leveraged to help generate data that was used in successfully applying to Brain Canada for a $3M Multi-Investigator Research Initiative entitled “Biomarkers for crossing the translational divide in acute spinal cord injury.” Says Dr. Kwon, “This ‘future direction’ from the Samson Award is now taking us into doing proteomics, genomics, and metabolomics on our human SCI patients.”

Dr. Marvin Tile, Patron of the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation, notes the importance of funding from the COF in these two projects. He says, “Research funding from the COF fills a definite niche: we help to fund research that other funding bodies simply do not fund; and the research we do fund is used as a springboard to larger, innovative projects. The COF plays an important role in making these projects possible.”

As a charitable organization, the COF relies on generous donors to fund its research program; and a large and committed portion of the donor database is orthopaedic surgeons.

As evidenced by Dr. Jomha’s and Dr Kwon’s research, says Dr. Tile, “Canada has some of the best and brightest orthopaedic researchers in the world – researchers whose ideas can lead to innovations in orthopaedic surgery, treatment and care. As orthopaedic surgeons, we must invest in this research.”

The COF is grateful to the individuals and corporations that support its programs.