A new hope for sufferers of spinal cord injuries

Photo from the Spinal Cure event

Photos by Carmen Lee Platt/Encapture Photography

UTS, SpinalCure Australia and SCIA to spearhead groundbreaking research and treatment for spinal cord injuries.

Research aiming to reverse the paralysing effects of spinal cord injuries that devastate the lives of countless Australians and their families will be spearheaded under a new partnership between UTS, SpinalCure Australia and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA).

Taking place in UTS’s newly established Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, the partnership will build on the astonishing research of UCLA-based scientist Professor  Reggie Edgerton, whose breakthrough discoveries and techniques have enabled twenty people who were paralysed through chronic spinal cord injury to regain the ability to move their limbs. His first four patients recovered hand movement, bladder and bowel control, sexual function and the ability to stand – never previously achieved following a devastating spinal cord injury. The research now aims towards developing the first new solutions to support recovery in decades.

The UTS Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine will also take a transdisciplinary approach to its work, developing novel treatments and cures for conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, further enriching UTS as a centre of innovative future-focussed health research.

"Every day in Australia another person is paralysed from a spinal injury due to a vehicle accident, sporting injury or simple fall"

“Every day in Australia another person is paralysed from a spinal injury due to a vehicle accident, sporting injury or simple fall,” says Professor Bryce Vissel, who leads the UTS Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine. “Promising therapies such as Professor Edgerton’s will finally be tested with people here who so desperately need them.  We will take a multi-disciplinary approach and collaborate with a broad range of scientists, designers and engineers at UTS to deliver real solutions.”

Speaking at the launch of the partnership, Professor Edgerton adds, “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.”

Professor Edgerton has agreed to collaborate with UTS to establish, trial, and develop his groundbreaking research in Australia.  His work offers hope to the 15,000 Australians currently paralysed by spinal cord injuries and the hundreds of thousands worldwide. His work could also benefit people living with other mobility conditions caused by stroke or Parkinson’s.

Professor Edgerton’s work focusses on epidural electrical stimulation, 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’s new generation of electrical stimulation allows transcutaneous (through the skin) stimulation, which eliminates the dangers and costs of surgery, and allows a much quicker roll-out of the trials.  His team has shown that, in combination with pharmacological treatment, it can achieve results comparable to those seen using the epidural stimulation implants.

Subject to securing funding, UTS will roll out treatment that combines neurostimulation with exercise for patients across Australia within five years.  A world-leading research program for exercise training and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, stroke and Parkinson’s disease will be developed with SCIA, which has more than seven years’ experience in managing specialty, best-practice, exercise programs for people with mobility issues.

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