Human Tissue Bank
Jun 26, 2001

Doctors in Toronto are hoping a new research tool will help unlock some of the mysteries around spinal cord injuries.

They're setting up the country's first bank of spinal cord tissue.

It's a venture that could open new doors to researchers and patients:

Lorraine Yamamoto knows the devastating effect of a spinal cord injury.She says "it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time".

Her husband Sam's spine was crushed in a car accident.

It robbed him of his ability to eat. To swallow.

Over the next few years, he learned to walk again, got his arms moving.

Then, out of the blue, a relapse.

His doctors didn't know what was happening or how to help him.

Lorraine Yamamoto says "it was this... the frustration that we could sense in the medical staff as they really searched to figure out what the problem was with Sam".

Within months, Sam Yamamoto was dead from pneumonia. A direct result of his injury.

Lorraine wanted to salvage something positive from so much pain. She says "I knew that he wanted to be an organ donor but because of the circumstances it wasn't possible and so i was searching for another way in which he could make a contribution specifically to spinal cord research".

In the end, she decided to donate tissue from Sam's spinal cord.

His doctors were thrilled.

They decided this one gift could be the start of something much bigger

DR. Michael Fehlings is a Neurosurgeon at the Toronto Western Hospital. He says "and this really inspired us to think well could we develop a spinal cord injury tissue bank in a more organized fashion and ultimately with a view to making this kind of tissue available to any researcher in the world who has an idea or a novel discovery that they want to test".

Fehlings says the timing is right.

Scientists are making dramatic new discoveries about the spinal cord but these findings are in animals.

A ready supply of human tissue will help them take the next step. Translating these important discoveries from animals to people.

Dr. Fehlings says "so that hopefully we can then treat patients with spinal cord injury more effectively".

While nerves in other parts of the body will repair themselves, nerves in the spinal cord will not.

Once they're cut, the connection is lost.

So is the movement that depends on that connection.

Sometimes, nerve cells die off much later, years after the original injury.

That's what happened to Sam Yamamoto. Doctors have a theory on why this happens.

They think the cells are programmed, at the time of the injury, to die.

Without more research on human tissue, they can't be certain. And they can't do anything about it.

Dr. Fehlings says "really what we're asking people to do in collaboration with orgs such as the Canadian Paraplegic Association and other key stake holders is to identify people who would be willing to donate tissue when they pass on".

Lorraine Yamamoto says "there's still so much more to learn and it was the secondary onslaught that really brought that out".

Lorraine Yamamoto knows her husband would be pleased.

She's hoping his dying gift will inspire others with spinal cord injuries.

That they too will donate tissue, in the same way many other people donate organs.

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