by Albert J. Aguayo (Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine)
The brain is, arguably the most complex of our organs. It is made of billions of interconnecting cells that process the information we need to see, hear feel, think and act. It rules behavior and hide the secrets of what we are as human beings. Following brain or spinal cord injury or disease, new cells as well as a re-growth and reconnection of damaged ones may be required to restore function. New knowledge shows this may be possible. Advances in this field derive largely from a better understanding of the potential of neural stem cells to multiply and differentiate into mature neurons and glia and also from the identification of molecules that either block or stimulate nerve fiber growth. Furthermore, the functional plasticity of the nervous system can compensate for the loss of some of its components either spontaneously, through training, aided by devices or in response to appropriate drug therapies. Professor Emeritus Aguayo and his team were the first to show that nerve fibres and function in the central nervous system of adult mammals could be restored after injury.Dr. Aguayo is a neuroscientist who has made significant contributions in the areas of neural regeneration and repair. His work has had important influences in treating injuries to the nervous system once considered untreatable. Dr. Aguaya joined McGill in 1967 and became a professor in 1977. For 15 years, beginning in 1985, he held the position of Director, Centre for Research in Neuroscience. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Order of Canada, the Killam and Gairdner awards. Dr. Aguayo has taught in academic institutions around the world. He is former secretary-general and president of the International Brain Research Organization, a UNESCO affiliate representing more than 50,000 neuroscientists worldwide.