Precision view of spinal cord injuries earns UQ researcher a Churchill Fellowship

29 Nov 2022

Marc RuitenbergA University of Queensland scientist is set expand his research into finding new treatments for spinal cord injury after being awarded a 2022 Churchill Fellowship.

Associate Professor Marc Ruitenberg from UQ’s School of Biomedical Sciences and his team are using the latest advances in single-cell and spatial sequencing technologies to better understand spinal cord injury.

“For the first time, we can take a ‘Google maps’ style walk through a lesion site and get unprecedented insight into how cells here change with time and how they’re predicted to interact,” Dr Ruitenberg said.

“It’s revolutionary in terms of how we as researchers can now look at spinal cord injury and find cures or treatments.

“The technology cuts out bias when looking at medical conditions like this, and shows us what to focus on in terms of therapies and interventions.”

The research is being conducted in partnership with Dr Quan Nguyen from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

Dr Ruitenberg said the Churchill Fellowship will allow him to visit some of the world's leading laboratories in Canada and the US in 2023.

“We’re now at the stage where we need to validate new therapeutic targets to treat spinal cord injury,” he said.

“These researchers are already conducting studies like this in cancer and multiple sclerosis.”

Dr Ruitenberg said he was excited by the opportunity to bring those advanced approaches into the field of spinal cord injury, and to accelerate findings from the lab phase into the translation phase.

“This is an area of medicine that’s been stagnant for a long time in terms of research breakthroughs, because until now we were lacking the tools to understand the biological complexity of the problem,” he said.

Dr Ruitenberg said he was especially thrilled his Churchill Fellowship was sponsored by Dr John and Mrs Joy Yeo.

“I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them both - John is a retired surgeon who received his own Churchill Fellowship in 1967 to further research into the treatment of spinal cord injuries,” he said.

“He remains keenly interested in recent advances and the technologies now being used in the field.

“John also gave me his own doctoral thesis to read, which was special and humbling as many of his ideas are still valid today.”

Dr Ruitenberg is among 84 Australians awarded a 2022 Churchill Fellowship.

He was presented with the award by Queensland Governor, The Honourable Dr Jeanette Young, at a ceremony at Government House earlier this month.