CatWalk – Our partners in New Zealand

CatWalk – Our partners in New Zealand

New Zealand based CatWalk is our featured collaborative organisation this month!

Catriona Williams
Catriona Williams

CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust was founded by Catriona Williams MNZM in 2005, one of New Zealand’s leading international equestrian riders. A riding accident in 2002 left her a complete tetraplegic and wheelchair bound. A cure for paralysis has always been Catriona’s dream.

Dedicated to funding research that aims to fix paralysis following spinal cord injuries, they focus on supporting world-class research and innovation to get people out of wheelchairs and back onto their feet.

At the end of 2019, SpinalCure formed a partnership with CatWalk with the goal of funding the groundbreaking medical research being undertaken at NeuRA in Sydney.

Meg Speirs, General Manager of CatWalk, recently answered some questions regarding what is happening in the SCI space in NZ and how the partnership with SpinalCure might look going forward.

How did the relationship between SpinalCure and CatWalk develop?

Meg Speirs: CatWalk supported SCIN (Spinal Cord Injury Network) back when it was around and Joanna Knott (SpinalCure Co-Founder and Chair) was part of that organisation. We’ve always known about SpinalCure; we have the same vision. Curing SCI is all about working together. There’s no competing with each other, it’s crucial that we always keep an eye on what our colleagues are up to and share knowledge.

What does SCI research and treatment look like in NZ?

The Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility, University of Auckland NZ

Meg Speirs: Since the establishment of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility at the University of Auckland in 2011 there have been a number of significant advances towards our understanding of SCI and the development of treatments. Many exciting discoveries have been made and we have developed new collaborations, both in New Zealand and internationally, and enhanced the training of students in the field of spinal cord injury research.

Projects include:

  • significant progress in evaluating the use of gene therapy to encourage the regrowth of and reconnection of nerve cells;
  • testing the use of an existing drug that prevents inflammation associated with chronic injury;
  • establishing that measurement of antioxidant levels in the cord after injury can be used to determine the extent of the injury;
  • developing ways to strengthen leaky blood vessels following injury and prevent further damage to the injury site;
  • how best to deliver drugs directly to the site of spinal cord injury;
  • and vitally important support for postgraduate students to work with the team in the laboratories.

The focus is now to build on these exciting findings and move towards clinical trials.

What led to the financial partnership with SCA? And why SCA?

Meg Speirs: Kathryn (SpinalCure COO) and Duncan (SpinalCure CEO) reached out to CatWalk at the end of 2019 with an initial proposition to discuss the trial at NeuRA. It didn’t take much of a conversation before we were getting down to details.

So much due diligence had already been completed by the SCA team in conjunction with NeuRA; they had identified research that could have an incredibly swift benefit to wheelies.

It really was a no brainer for the CatWalk board. We ran it through our official vetting process and the project got a unanimous tick. It’s our largest funding commitment to date.

What goals would Catwalk like to achieve through this partnership?

Meg Speirs: Functional improvements that lead to a cure. Pretty simple answer but a highly complex research challenge!

What does the partnership look like now? And how do you see the relationship with SpinalCure evolving?

Meg Speirs: We are in it for the long-term with SpinalCure and we’re delighted to be working alongside them (although we Kiwis did invent the pavlova and Russel Crowe is from Auckland). We are here to support the best possible research in the world and that’s what we believe this trial is; it’s truly exciting.