Research aiming to reverse the paralyzing effects of spinal cord injuries (SCI) that devastate the lives of so many Australians and their families will soon begin at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Research within a new Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine being established at UTS will build on astonishing breakthrough results produced by UCLA-based scientist Dr Reggie Edgerton.
Twenty paralysed people have so far had the ability to move limbs for the first time after chronic spinal cord injury. Results for the first twelve subjects are published1.
Professor Edgerton presented his discoveries to guests, many with spinal cord injuries, in a packed auditorium UTS this week. He was joined by renowned neuroscientist Professor Bryce Vissel who will lead the University’s newest Centre in the Science Faculty in calling for urgent funding of the research which is offering the first new hope of recovery in decades.
Professor Edgerton’s first four patients, who received epidural stimulators recovered hand movement, bladder and bowel control, sexual function and the ability to stand – never previously achieved following a devastating SCI.
Celebrity journalist Kerri-Anne Kennerley, whose husband John suffered partial quadriplegia from a simple accident this year, shared her tragic personal experience with the audience and sent an urgent call for much needed support for the research.
UTS is working with SpinalCure Australia and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) to support focused integrated research in neurological disorders such as spinal cord injury.
Professor Edgerton has agreed to collaborate with UTS to establish, trial and develop his groundbreaking research in Australia.
Prof Edgerton’s work offers hope to the 15,000 Australians currently paralysed by spinal cord injuries and the hundreds of thousands worldwide. His work could affect other mobility conditions caused by stroke or Parkinson’s.
Epidural electrical stimulation is one of the most promising avenues of research in spinal injury. The treatment, (described as like “currents of electricity jump-starting the spinal cord”) involves the implantation of a small electrode array against the spinal cord below the site of injury.
Professor Edgerton has developed a new generation of electrical stimulation that allow transcutaneous (through the skin) stimulation eliminating the dangers and cost of surgery and allowing a much quicker roll-out of the trials. His team has showed that in combination with pharmacological treatment, it can achieve results comparable to those seen using the epidural stimulation implants.
“Professor Edgerton’s early work suggests that neurostimulation has the unprecedented potential to provide life-changing hand movement and function control to quadriplegics. The UTS neurostimulation team will develop this breakthrough further,” Prof Attila Brungs, Vice Chancellor and President UTS said.
The Centre will be headed by Professor Vissel, who was instrumental in persuading Professor Edgerton to bring his research to Australia.
“After meeting with Bryce and the team at UTS, I came to the view that UTS is the only program, worldwide, that together with our established program in the US, has the capacity, commitment, breadth of expertise and community support to develop the technology and take it forward to the next phase,” Prof Edgerton said.
Subject to securing funding, UTS intends to roll-out neurostimulation combined with exercise for patients across Australia within five years. A world leading research program for exercise training and rehabilitation for people with SCI, stroke and Parkinson’s disease will be developed with SCIA, which has over seven years’ experience in managing specialty, best-practice, exercise programs for people with mobility issues.
“Every day in Australia another person is paralysed from a spinal injury due to a vehicle accident, sporting injury or simple fall. Promising therapies such as Professor Edgerton’s will finally be tested in the people here that so desperately need them. We will taking a multi-disciplinary approach and collaborating with a range of scientists, designers and engineers at UTS to deliver solutions,” Prof Vissel said.
“What Professor Edgerton has achieved is truly astonishing. As one who is faced with seeing the impact of spinal cord injury on a loved one, I am so proud of UTS and SpinalCure Australia for bringing this ground-breaking to Australia and giving us such real reason for hope of a better life,” Ms Kennerley said.
SpinalCure Australia, now in its 21st year, funds research to end paralysis. Every day in Australia another person has a spinal injury generally from a car accident, sports injury or everyday fall. The David Prast Fellowship has been established within the new Centre and will recognise excellence in SCI research. It is in honour of the late David Prast, a leader in advocating for such research and former director of both SpinalCure Australia and SCIA.
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