Phillips Lab

It may not be intuitive to many of us that don’t have a spinal cord injury, and can't immediately understand the severity of the disability beyond what they see with the naked eye, but there are many hidden and deceptive consequences of this condition. Although we all observe that there is certainly paralysis and loss of movement, people with spinal cord injury live on a daily basis with dysfunction of the unconscious bodily systems that most of us tend to take for granted. These functions are collectively called autonomic, in that because they are largely operated by centres in our brain that are most commonly unconscious, in medicine they are often considered autonomous. These functions include many of the bodily systems required for basic daily living, such as stable blood pressure so that our brains and hearts can function, bladder and bowel control so that we do not leak or store waste inappropriately, and the loss of sexual function which can permeate into all aspects of life. After reading this it is likely not surprising that these issues are consistently reported as being more important than walking again to people living with spinal cord injury. The Phillips Lab team is focused on understanding and solving these issues.

Research Activities

My research intersects integrated physiology and neuroscience in order to understand cardiovascular function. Currently, the laboratory has two primary foci: the first is to understand the mechanisms underlying neurovascular regulation in the human brain; the second is to develop a neurostimulation therapy for treating autonomic dysfunction.

We are supported with roughly $2 million in direct current operational funds. This includes generous support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research through a five-year project grant that was ranked second in Canada by the Neuroscience-A Committee (PI: Phillips). We are also supported by a Wing for Life Foundation operating grant, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada through a five-year Discovery Grant (PI: Phillips), as well as the Rick Hansen Institute, and Compute Canada (PI: Phillips). This generous support allows us to answer a number of fascinating questions using the best tools.

$1.65 million in trainee support

Dr. Phillips was recently part of a 10 person team that secured a $1.65 million NSERC CREATE Grant. This program provides scholarships, fellowships and a powerful inter-disciplinary training platform for next-generation neuro-entrepreneurs, neuroscientists, and neuro-engineers. See more information here:

International Collaborations

We am currently working with interdisciplinary teams of scientists, clinicians, and engineers in Switzerland (EPFL), Croatia (Split Medical School), and the USA (University of Minnesota) to deeply understand the capacity of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to control autonomic function. We currently have active trainee exchanges between these sites and University of Calgary.


Clinical tools used in the lab include vascular and cardiac ultrasound, beat-by-beat blood pressure, cardiac, cerebral and spinal cord MRI, orthostatic stress testing, exercise stress testing, functional electrical stimulation, passive cycling, arterial blood gas reactivity testing (RespirAct Gen IV), both surgically implanted and non-invasive neurostimulation modalities, eye tracking, muscle sympathetic nervous system recordings, etc. Preclinical tools include various tissue clearing methods (CLARITY, uDISCO) arterial cannulation, nerve recordings, spinal cord transection/contusion, and a variety of genetic strains for manipulation (e.g., Th-Cre, PV-Cre). The lab is also employing a novel computational pipeline for managing large data-sets of physiological metrics.

Recent Publications

2020 (Phillips Lab members in bold)

Cell type prioritization in single-cell data. Skinnider M, Squair J, Kathe C, Anderson M, Gautier M, Matson K, Milano M, Hutson T, Barraud Q, Phillips AA, Foster L, Manno GL, Levine AJ, Courtine G. Nature Biotechnology (Accepted).

Neurovascular coupling is not influenced by lower body negative pressure in humans. Samora M, Vianna LC, Carmo JC, Macedo V, Dawes M, Phillips AA, Paton JFR, Fisher JP.Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2020

Vascular-Cognitive Impairment Following High-Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury is Associated with Structural and Functional Maladaptations in Cerebrovasculature. Sachdeva R, Jia M, Wang S, Yung A, Zheng MM, Lee AHX, Monga A, Leong S, Kozlowski P, Fan F, Roman RJ, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV.J Neurotrauma. 2020

Effects of circulating extracellular microvesicles from spinal cord-injured adults on endothelial cell function. Brewster LM, Coombs GB, Garcia VP, Hijmans JG, DeSouza NM, Stockelman KA, Barak OF, Mijacika T, Dujic Z, Greiner JJ, Phillips AA, Ainslie PN, DeSouza CA. Clin Sci (Lond). 2020

Diverse cognitive impairment after spinal cord injury is associated with orthostatic hypotension symptom burden. Nightingale TE, Zheng MMZ, Sachdeva R, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV. Physiol Behav. 2020

Spinal Cord Injury Impairs Cardiovascular Capacity in Elite Wheelchair Rugby Athletes. Gee CM, Currie KD, Phillips AA, Squair JW, Krassioukov AV. Clin J Sport Med. 2020

Diverse cognitive impairment after spinal cord injury is associated with orthostatic hypotension symptom burden. Nightingale TE, Zheng MMZ, Sachdeva R, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV.Physiol Behav. 2020

2019 (Phillips Lab members in bold)

Sleep-disordered breathing is associated with brain vascular reactivity in spinal cord injury. Squair JW, Lee AHX, Sarafis ZK, Coombs G, Barak O, Cragg JJ, Mijacika T, Pecotic R, Krassioukov AV, Dogas Z, Dujic Z, Phillips AA. Neurology.

Diverse Cognitive Impairment After Spinal Cord Injury is Associated with Orthostatic Hypotension Symptom Burden. Nightingale TE, Zheng MMZ, Sachdeva R, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV.

Physiol Behav.

Neurovascular coupling and cerebral autoregulation in atrial fibrillation. Junejo RT, Braz ID, Lucas SJ, van Lieshout JJ, Phillips AA, Lip GY, Fisher JP. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab.

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. Cerebrovascular function is preserved during mild hyperthermia in cervical spinal cord injury. Coombs GB, Vucina D, Caldwell HG, Barak OF, Mijacika T, Lee AHX, Sarafis ZK, Squair JW, Krassioukov AV, Phillips AA, Dujic Z, Ainslie PN. Spinal Cord. 2019 Jul 9.

PRES secondary to autonomic dysreflexia: A case series and review of the literature. Hubbard ME, Phillips AA, Charbonneau R, Squair JW, Parr AM, Krassioukov A. J Spinal Cord Med. 2019 May 29:1-7

Reliability of Cognitive Measures in Individuals With a Chronic Spinal Cord Injury. Nightingale TE, Lim CAR, Sachdeva R, Zheng MMZ, Phillips AA, Krassioukov A. PM R. 2019 Mar 22.

Network analysis identifies consensus physiological measures of neurovascular coupling in humans. Squair JW, Lee AH, Sarafis ZK, Chan F, Barak OF, Dujic Z, Day T, Phillips AA. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2019

Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation facilitates immediate restoration of dormant motor and autonomic supraspinal pathways after chronic neurologically complete spinal cord injury. Darrow D, Balser DY, Netoff T, Krassioukov AV, Phillips AA, Parr AM, Samadani U. J Neurotrauma


Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation Acutely Modulates Lower Urinary Tract and Bowel Function Following Spinal Cord Injury: A Case Report. Walter M, Lee AHX, Kavanagh A, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV. (Co-Corresponding Authors)

Acute heat stress reduces biomarkers of endothelial activation but not macro- or microvascular dysfunction in cervical spinal cord injury. Coombs GB, F Barak O, Phillips A, Mijacika T, Sarafis Z, H X Lee A, Squair JW, Bammert TD, DeSouza NM, Gagnon D, Krassioukov AV, Dujic Z, DeSouza CA, Ainslie PN. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 Dec 21. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00693.2018.

Hippocampal volume and vasculature before and after exercise in treatment-resistant schizophrenia. Woodward ML, Gicas KM, Warburton DE, White RF, Rauscher A, Leonova O, Su W, Smith GN, Thornton AE, Vertinsky AT, Phillips AA, Goghari VM, Honer WG, Lang DJ. Schizophr Res. 2018 Dec;202:158-165. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2018.06.054.

National survey of bladder and gastrointestinal dysfunction in people with spinal cord injury. Squair JW, Dhaliwal R, Cragg JJ, Charbonneau R, Grant C, Phillips AA. J Neurotrauma. 2018 Dec 1. doi: 10.1089/neu.2018.5967. [Epub ahead of print]

Is Technology for Orthostatic Hypotension Ready for Primetime? Sarafis ZK, Monga AK, Phillips AA, Krassioukov AV. PM R. 2018 Sep;10(9S2):S249-S263. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2018.04.011.

Spinal cord disruption is associated with a loss of Cushing-like blood pressure interactions. Saleem S, Sarafis ZK, Lee AHX, Squair J, F Barak O, Sober-Williams E, Suraj R, Coombs G, Mijacika T, West CR, Krassioukov AV, Ainslie P, Dujic Z, Tzeng S, Phillips AA. J Neurotrauma. 2018 Nov 20. doi: 10.1089/neu.2018.5931

Reduced colonic smooth muscle cholinergic responsiveness is associated with impaired bowel motility after chronic experimental high-level spinal cord injury. #Frias B, #Phillips AA, Squair JW, Lee AHX, Laher I, Krassioukov AV. #Co-first author. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical. 2018 Sep 1. pii: S1566-0702(17)30319-3. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2018.08.005.

Minocycline reduces the severity of autonomic dysreflexia after experimental spinal cord injury. Squair JW, Ruiz IA, Phillips AA, Zheng MM, Sarafis Z, Sachdeva R, Gopaul R, Liu J, Tetzlaff W, West CR, Krassioukov AV. J Neurotrauma. 2018 Aug 16. doi: 10.1089/neu.2018.5703.

Effect of healthy ageing on cerebral blood flow, CO2 reactivity and neurovascular coupling during exercise. Nowak-Flück D, Ainslie PN, Bain AR, Ahmed A, Wildfong KW, Morris LE, Phillips AA, Fisher JP. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Jun 7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00050.2018. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 29878868

Wavelet decomposition analysis is a clinically relevant strategy to evaluate cerebrovascular buffering of blood pressure after spinal cord injury Saleem S, Vucina D, Sarafis Z, Lee AHX, Squair JW, Barak OF, Coombs GB, Mijacika T, Krassioukov AV, Ainslie PN, Dujic Z, Tzeng YC, Phillips AA. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol.

To perturb or not to perturb: a novel physiological approach using closed-loop feedback to understand feedback systems. Darrow D, Phillips AA. Journal of Physiology. 2018

Association of Epidural Stimulation With Cardiovascular Function in an Individual With Spinal Cord Injury #West CR, #Phillips AA, Squair JW, Williams AM, Walter M, Lam T, Krassioukov AV. #Co-first author JAMA Neurology

Journal Club: Relationship between carotid arterial properties and cerebral white matter hyperintensities. Squair JW, Field TS, Phillips AA. Neurology

Alarming blood pressure changes during routine bladder emptying in a woman with cervical spinal cord injury. Lee AHX, Phillips AA, Squair JW, Barak OF, Coombs GB, Ainslie PN, Sarafis ZK, Mijacika, Vucina, Dujic Z, Krassioukov AV. Spinal Cord Ser Cases.

Transient Hypertension after Spinal Cord Injury Leads to Cerebrovascular Endothelial Dysfunction and Fibrosis. Phillips AA, Matin N, Jia M, Squair JW, Monga A, Zheng MMZ, Sachdeva R, Yung A, Hocaloski S, Elliott S, Kozlowski P, Dorrance AM, Laher I, Ainslie PN, Krassioukov AV. J Neurotrauma

Incidence and Natural Progression of Neurogenic Shock after Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury. Ruiz IA, Squair JW, Phillips AA, Lukac CD, Huang D, Oxciano P, Yan D, Krassioukov AV. J Neurotrauma

An Autonomic Neuroprosthesis: Noninvasive Electrical Spinal Cord Stimulation Restores Autonomic Cardiovascular Function in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury. Phillips AA, Squair JW, Sayenko DG, Edgerton VR, Gerasimenko Y, Krassioukov AV. J Neurotrauma