SpinalCure Australia supports six new research projects

SpinalCure Australia has announced six new small grants for spinal cord injury researchers from all around Australia, bringing the total number of research projects the organisation is supporting to eleven. 

The support for these researchers was made possible by a generous bequest by Peter Blundy, a former Australian Navy officer who had his life changed when a balcony rail collapsed, causing him to fall from the second storey.

“We are excited to be able to support spinal cord injury researchers from all around Australia and to see such a wide range of approaches being developed in the country to accelerate treatments for people with spinal cord injury,” said SpinalCure CEO Duncan Wallace.

Here are the six successful applicants:

Brooke Wadsworth

Brooke Wadsworth, Advanced Physiotherapist at the Spinal Injuries Unit of the Princess Alexandra Hospital, received a travel grant of $1,700 towards costs of her recent attendance at the 2019 Australian & New Zealand Spinal Cord Society (ANZSCos) Annual Scientific Meeting

Wadsworth attended the conference in August, where she gave two presentations relating to her work on respiratory management in new high-level spinal cord injuries. The first demonstrated how optimising the time at which patients are taken off mechanical ventilation gives them the best chance of survival. While it can save lives straight after injury, being mechanically ventilated for longer than necessary can lead to death, so the sooner it’s removed, the more likely a patient will survive. 

Wadsworh’s second presentation concerned her upcoming multi-site clinical study looking at the same issue and the benefits of providing inspitatory (breathing in) support for these patients for times when their weakened respiratory muscles become fatigued.  

Claire Crossley

Claire Crossley, PhD candidate at Griffith University, received a travel grant of $1,000 towards the cost of her trip to Sydney to meet with Dr Che Fornusek, in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney. 

Dr Che Fornusek is a world expert in functional electrical stimulation and the meeting will help Crossley with her PhD. 

Crossley’s research is looking at how to integrate multiple existing technologies that individually have been shown to improve function in individuals with SCI, such as neural prosthetics and rehabilitation robotics, direct electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and advanced brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and virtual reality. 

Crossley says that by simultaneously engaging the central and peripheral nervous systems, there is evidence that restoration of function is possible. 

Marina Ciccarelli

Marina Ciccarelli, Associate Professor at the School of Occupational Therapy, at Curtin University in Perth, has received an equipment grant of $4,317.00 to be used in the project “Using customised home-based virtual reality rehabilitation to regain upper limb movement and control following cervical SCI.”

This pilot project aims to determine the effectiveness of a daily home-based VR-simulation to improve upper limb function for people with incomplete cervical SCI.

SpinalCure is funding all the VR headsets required for the study.  

Dr Ryan O’Hare Doig

Dr Ryan Louis O’Hare Doig, PhD student at the Neil Sachse Centre for Spinal Cord Research, at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) at The University of Adelaide, has been granted $1,890 for the purchase of a Rodent Horizontal Ladder.

This is a key piece of equipment needed to measure the degree of recovery in rats after spinal cord injury.  The Horizontal Ladder Test is used to evaluate how well the rodents walk. The ladder has varied spacing between rungs allowing the researchers to assess fore and hind-limb coordination, and sensory-motor function.

Dr Vanesa Bochkezanian

Dr Vanesa Bochkezanian, Lecturer in Neurological Physiotherapy at Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, received an equipment grant of $5,035 towards a Digitimer DS7A HV Current stimulator.

This high-end digital stimulator is used to maintain and improve muscle size and health, and reduce spasm after injury. This has numerous health benefits and also keeps patients in the best position to benefit from emerging “cure-related” interventions. 

Dr Onno van der Groen

Dr. Onno van der Groen PhD, from the NeuroRehabilitation Laboratory at Edith Cowan University, received an equipment grant of $4,288 towards a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Unit. This grant has been matched by the university to allow Dr van der Groen to complete the purchase.

Dr van der Groen’s will use the stimulator to study how stimulating the brain can encourage neuroplasticity and restore function in the spinal cord injured. 

“In healthy subjects and clinical populations, repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) has been shown to alter cortical excitability with effects that persist beyond the time of stimulation and imaging studies show that rTMS can induce structural and functional reorganisation,” Dr van der Groen explained. 

This approach is related to the spinal neurostimulation work that has given people back the ability to walk, but it’s from the brain down rather than from the spinal cord up. 

Bequests – a lasting legacy to be proud of

SpinaCure Australia is extremely thankful for Mr Blundy’s bequest, which made these grants possible, said SpinalCure CEO Duncan Wallace.

“Those like Mr Blundy who left a gift to SpinalCure Australia in their will have enabled us to finance some outstanding research over the years, bringing us ever closer to the ultimate goal of finding a cure,” said Mr Wallace.

If you would like to find out more about leaving a gift for research in your will please call Duncan Wallace on 0459 359 180  or email [email protected].

You can also find more information here, including suggested wording for your will.

SpinalCure Australia supports six new research projects