June 2021: Spinal cord injury research update

June 2021: Spinal cord injury research update

We are at an exciting point with cure-related spinal cord injury research in Australia, with our landmark gold standard eWalk trial beginning. Great progress is also being made in other areas. Dollars are the major hurdle in expanding trials and access to them, and we are calling on government and community to help us fast-track and expand them.

When SpinalCure was founded, back in 1996, people with spinal cord injuries were told there was no hope. The accepted belief was that spinal cord injuries could not be cured, repaired or even improved.  

Thankfully, since then, science has made some amazing breakthroughs.

SpinalCure-supported research has shown real results—with the news about our international neurostimulation trial—eWalk trial—receiving national news coverage. 

Here’s a an overview of our progress:

1. eWalk Neurostimulation trial

Our landmark international trial of ‘neurostimulation’ has just begun. We funded this research because neurostimulation holds the most promise out of current research to bring tangible improvement to people with spinal cord injury in the near future.

Neurostimulation is like a hearing aid for the spinal cord. It aims to harness the positive effects of neuroplasticity. Neurostimulation may help people walk again, help with bladder, bowel and temperature control, and other bodily functions that really matter to Australians with spinal cord injuries.

The trial has started with incomplete paraplegics, as they are most likely to show the greatest improvement—therefore potentially providing validation for wider trials with different types of injuries and different body functions. We are keen to fund these wider trials.

Neurostimulation even has potential with complete injuries. Professor Susan Harkema’s study helped two people with such injuries walk again.

Our trial, also supported by Catwalk NZ and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, is different to many of those overseas in several ways:

  • The neurostimulation is applied externally rather being implanted—this means that if successful, the technology can be rolled out cost-effectively and used by multiple people.
  • This is is a large-scale trial, which is multi-centred, double-blind randomised sham-controlled clinical trial—an important missing element in the global scientific evidence supporting neurostimulation for SCI.

2) Reducing injury damage in the early stages

We’ve helped develop a promising anti-inflammatory drug treatment for  newly injured people which is being tested by the University of Queensland. Results of the research will be published later this year. 

One of the great benefits of this drug, IVIg, is that it is quite safe and already used for other conditions. As a result, A/Prof Ruitenberg and his team, have been able to quickly progress this treatment from the lab to the clinic.

With further funding, we are aiming to support a wider, national, stage 2 or 3 trial, which could lay the groundwork for taking this treatment to Australians when they are first injured.

3) Reconnecting the brain and body through nerve regrowth could soon be possible.

One of our first major funding initiatives helped isolate EphA4—a protein which prevents neurons from regrowing across the injury site. Researchers have created a molecule which counteracts EphA4, and it’s now in a Stage 1 safety trial. This study alone could have amazing results by helping nerves to regrow and reconnect the brain and body. 

4) Intensive rehabilitation and exercise is an essential adjunct to cure-related treatments

We’re supporting a clinical trial which is using robotics and video games to improve the amount and quality of exercise therapy people receive. The aim is use robotics improve outcomes in arm and hand function for people with SCI, particularly tetraplegics.

We are making great progress, but we want and need to do more. Funding is the major hurdle to expanding trials and rolling out successfully trialled life-changing treatments to all Australians who need it.

Donate now to help this happen.