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Charles Tator: Lifetime Achievement, Unfinished

Charles Tator
Charles Tator

Charles Tator, M.D., Ph.D. was awarded the 2011 ASIA Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this summer. Dr. Tator, a neurosurgeon and spinal cord injury ­scientist at Toronto Western Research Institute, has been active for many years in the prevention of neurotrauma; he founded the prevention group, ThinkFirst Canada. He ­developed the first acute spinal cord injury unit in Canada in 1974 at Sunnybrook Medical Centre. He is a member of the Advisory Panel that provides guidance to the Reeve Foundation International Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury. He is an investigator in the Foundation's North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN), which is currently evaluating the drug Riluzole for acute spinal cord injury. Dr. Tator, funded by the Reeve Foundation, is currently studying stem cell therapies in combination with guidance channels, scaffolding and growth promoting substances. Meet Dr. Tator:

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Early on in my medical career I was aware that while we were getting better and ­better at enhancing survival after spinal cord injury we really hadn't made a dent in ­enhancing neurological recovery. I began what is probably the first spinal cord basic science lab in Canada. That was 42 years ago. I've been looking for a breakthrough all that time. I haven't found it but as a brain surgeon, you have to be optimistic. We have to keep trying.

NACTN has been a terrific service to the field; it brings together a number of major centers and clinicians, linking us together to solve the problem of SCI. We don't know if Riluzole will hit or miss. There are other drug candidates we might consider. The fact is, if we don't look we are not going to find it. We have to keep looking. And we have to look beyond rats to human patients in a real setting. In my lab, we are 100 percent devoted to stem cells, both endogenous and transplanted. Our combination experiments, with Reeve funding, are the most likely way to enhance recovery in a chronic injury.

My legacy, if I were to write it, would be "full steam ahead." There is a lot of work to be done and we need an army of people to do it. We need to find treatments for SCI and we need to discover the mechanisms of injury. I like research and the process of putting it in action. You can't be squirreled away by yourself in this work. You need teamwork. Over the years I have welcomed many to the team, and have seen many of them -- for ­example, Michael Fehlings -- go on to form their own teams. I guess I am ­disappointed I haven't been able to solve more of these problems .... yet. I'm not giving up.


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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders