Breakthrough spinal cord treatment in Australia gets $2 million boost

Photo from the launch of Fellowships for the UTS Centre of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine event

(Clockwise from top left) UTS Professor Andrew Parfitt, Peter Perry (SCIA), UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs, Brad O’Hara (SCIA), Professor Bryce Vissel, Professor William Purcell (UTS), Mark McCauley (SCIA), Joanna Knott (SC), Duncan Wallace (SC).

Effective treatment for devastating spinal cord injuries is a step closer at the UTS Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine thanks to a new partnership and a generous donation.

The Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM) at UTS has reached a critical milestone with the signing of a new fellowship agreement between UTS, SpinalCure Australia (SC), and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA).

This landmark agreement means the development of new treatments that make a meaningful and positive impact to people with devastating spinal cord injuries is now one step closer. The significance of the occasion was marked with a gift of one million dollars from SC to UTS to support the Centre's research costs plus an additional one million dollars from SC & SCIA to go towards the fellowship costs.

The agreement, signed by SC Chairman Joanna Knott, SC CEO Duncan Wallace, SCIA Chairman Brad O'Hara, and SCIA Deputy Chairman Mark McCauley, and UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs establishes two fellowships named in memory of the late David Prast to research and develop trial treatments aimed at restoring normal function in people who have experienced a spinal cord injury.

"These new fellowships, along with the potentially life-changing research being conducted by the Centre and Project Edge, would not be possible without the support of great partners"

The first of these fellowships is the David Prast Fellowship in Spinal Neuromodulation, which will conduct research on developing electrical and pharmacological neurostimulation treatments for chronic spinal cord injury in people. The second is the David Prast Fellowship in Spinal Cord Regeneration, which will conduct research focussed on treatments for spinal cord injury in people through stem cells or related regenerative approaches.

"The partnership with UTS and the Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine offers a unique collaboration combining cutting edge science with international research expertise and practical knowledge," says SpinalCure Chair Joanna Knott.

"Our hopes are that this partnership will lead to treatments for people with spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions at a time of increasing optimism in areas like neuromodulation, credible stem cell interventions and tissue engineering. Our sincere gratitude goes to the Neilson Foundation for its foresight and generosity in making this funding possible"

SCIA Chairman Brad O'Hara concurs, adding, "At Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, we strongly believe in collaboration to achieve desired outcomes. The partnership with UTS and the Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine exemplifies this, as it sets out in achieving our main objective of contributing to a society without barriers for people with spinal cord injuries.

"As science and technology continues to work closer together, we know that soon we will be able to inform our members that we have made considerable progress in achieving our objective of removing these barriers so that others can lead a normal life that we able bodied people take for granted," O'Hara adds.

Spinal injury fellowship receiving check

The creation of the fellowships follows the launch of Project Edge in September 2016, an initiative within the CNRM that builds on the breakthrough research of UCLA scientist, Professor Reggie Edgerton. Professor Edgerton's work has enabled twenty people who were paralysed through chronic spinal cord injury to regain movement in their limbs. His first four patients experienced an unprecedented recovery of hand movement, bladder and bowel control, sexual function, and the ability to stand.

The CNRM will be working in close collaboration with Professor Edgerton, who has accepted a formal position at the Centre, to develop the program – the first of its kind outside the USA.

More than 15,000 Australians are living with spinal cord injuries today, with an estimated cost of $2 billion annually in direct health care and lost productivity.

"These new fellowships, along with the potentially life-changing research being conducted by the Centre and Project Edge, would not be possible without the support of great partners," says UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs.

"We are honoured that SpinalCure Australia and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia have chosen to partner with us in this critical and extraordinary work. Together, we will make a profound difference to the lives of many."

The CNRM at UTS, headed by Professor Bryce Vissel, is dedicated to delivering a positive impact to the thousands of people in Australia and worldwide who suffer from the devastating effects of spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The Centre is uniquely placed to do so, thanks to the synergies made possible through its multidisciplinary approach to technology, resources, and research.

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