Funding Injection for Medical Research Offers New Hope for Spinal Cord Injury Patients
The Australian Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has announced $6M in funding for Project Spark, an Australian medical research collaboration that is developing treatments for spinal cord injury patients. This grant will fund clinical trials aimed at restoring a range of lost bodily functions including bladder, bowel, walking, cardiovascular stability, hand and arm movement and breathing.
The allocation of this funding is a significant milestone for spinal cord injury research in Australia, as it represents the largest-ever financial commitment towards advancing this area of research by the Federal Government.
As part of Project Spark, a collaboration between SpinalCure Australia (SpinalCure), Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA), these funds will contribute to the testing and development of neurostimulation treatments at both NeuRA and the University of Melbourne, which are aimed at restoring the function of spinal nerves in people with spinal cord injury.
“Small studies overseas have shown unparalleled success in restoring lost body functions such as bladder and bowel control, hand/arm movement, and even walking, many years after the initial injury,” said SpinalCure’s Executive Director, Duncan Wallace. “Forty years ago when I became a quadriplegic, I was bluntly told I would never walk again. A person injured today should not be given such a finite prognosis. Today there is real hope.”
Alex Richter, SpinalCure Community Ambassador, became a quadriplegic when he was injured at age 16 while doing the sport he loves, mountain biking, and spent months in intensive care learning how to breathe. He dreams of regaining function so he can live more independently.
“The thought of regaining the ability to stand and walk, control my bladder and bowels, to move my hands, and to have stable cardiovascular function, is what drives me to keep pushing forward in my recovery journey. These may seem like small things to some people, but for me, they would be life-changing achievements,” said Alex.
The $6M will fund two world-leading clinical trials. The first, led by Professor Jane Butler at NeuRA, will test neurostimulation’s ability to restore or improve walking in people with incomplete spinal cord injuries. The second, led by Professor David Berlowitz at the University of Melbourne, will use a combination of two promising therapies — neurostimulation and acute intermittent hypoxia — with the aim of restoring arm, hand and respiratory function for those with quadriplegia. Acute intermittent hypoxia is a type of therapy that involves brief periods of reduced oxygen levels, which can help stimulate the nervous system and improve muscle function.
“Our research is centred on improving walking function in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injuries using neurostimulation. Neurostimulation involves the use of non-painful electrical stimulation to restore communication between the brain and body via the surviving pathways in the spinal cord. This technique shows great potential, and we’re excited about the possibilities it presents. Our ultimate goal is to develop effective treatments that restore independence and improve the quality of life for people living with spinal cord injuries,” says Professor Jane Butler.
Senator Linda Reynolds, a driving force behind supporting the funding, recently announced the development in parliament.
“As someone with a personal connection to this cause, I am passionate about championing ground-breaking research and treatment for spinal cord injuries. NeuRA and SpinalCure’s pioneering work holds the potential to transform lives and restore hope for those affected by this debilitating condition. Considering the profound impact of spinal cord injury on individuals and their families, as well as the staggering $3.7 billion annual cost to the economy, we must continue to invest in cure-focused therapies. This funding will enable us to place Australia in the global vanguard when it comes to pursuing these life-changing treatments,” Senator Reynolds said.
The goal of Project Spark is to not only restore meaningful levels of function but to move us closer to a cure for spinal cord injury. With these generous grants, the future looks brighter for spinal cord injured patients and their families.
“For decades, many spinal cord injury patients have been without specific treatment. SpinalCure has already invested $6M of our own fundraising into Project Spark and we are grateful for the recognition of the importance of our cause. With additional funding from the state and federal governments, we could see a roll-out of treatments in the near future and then start working towards the bigger picture of a cure. Spinal cord injured Australians should not have to wait any longer,” said Kathryn Borkovic, Chief Executive Officer, SpinalCure Australia.
Later in the year volunteers will be needed for these and other trials across the country. If you, or someone you know could benefit from this research, please email [email protected]
For more information on Project Spark, please visit https://www.spinalcure.org.au/campaigns/projectspark/
Distributed by Lanham Media on behalf of SpinalCure Australia
Media Assets available here. B-roll footage available on request.
- Alex Richter, SpinalCure Community Ambassador, became a quadriplegic when he was injured at age 16 while doing the sport he loves, and spent months in intensive care learning how to breathe. He dreams of regaining arm function so he can go camping with his mates without needing a carer.
- Duncan Wallace, Executive Director at SpinalCure, was hit by a drunk driver almost 40 years ago and became a quadriplegic. He firmly believes that newly injured people should no longer be told they will never walk again, and supports the development of new treatments.
- Kathryn Borkovic, Chief Executive Officer, SpinalCure Australia. is passionate about funding and developing quality, cutting-edge research and, under her stewardship, SpinalCure has raised close to $30 million towards spinal cord injury research so far.
- Other community ambassadors and celebrity spokespeople available on request.
Spinal cord injury key facts
- Every day, someone in Australia injures their spinal cord, with devastating consequences.
- There are over 20,000 people in Australia with spinal cord injury.
- Spinal injury costs the Australian economy $3.75 billion per annum with a lifetime cost in 2020 estimated at $75 billion.
- For a comparatively small investment, we can make a significant impact on people’s lives and save on the substantial costs to the economy.
- Cost savings from recovery in just 10 percent of people are conservatively estimated to be $3.5 billion, with the potential to be as high as $10.3 billion.
- In a second, someone’s life can change: from a car or sporting accident, or a simple fall. Any one of us could go from being active to injuring our spinal cord and spending much of their life in a wheelchair.
- The impact is life-shattering, not only for the injured person but also for their loved ones. For these people, there is currently no treatment, pill or lifestyle change that can mitigate the effects of a spinal cord injury. Research is their only hope.
- Loss of movement is just the tip of the iceberg—ongoing pain, digestive health issues, pressure sores, spasm, loss of bladder and bowel control and impaired sexual function are just some of the effects that can make everyday life so difficult.
SpinalCure has been Australia’s pioneer and leader in the funding and promotion of cure-related spinal cord injury research for 25 years. Four SpinalCure Directors live with a spinal cord injury and know what it requires physically, mentally and emotionally to cope with such a devastating condition.
Find out more at spinalcure.org.au
Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) is an independent, not-for-profit research institute based in Sydney aiming to prevent, treat and cure brain and nervous system diseases, disorders and injuries through medical research.
To learn more about NeuRA visit www.neura.edu.au
About Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) is a for-purpose organisation who support people with spinal cord injuries and neurological disabilities at every step of their journey. We want to create a world that advances the rights, choices and entitlements for people with spinal and neurological conditions, and empower them to thrive.
Find out more at scia.org.au