Research to reverse spinal cord injury offers renewed hope to thousands

Prof Bryce Vissel (L) Prof Judith Smith, Prof Reg Edgerton & Kerri-Anne Kennerley

Prof Bryce Vissel (L) Prof Judith Smith, Prof Reg Edgerton & Kerri-Anne Kennerley

In summary: 
  • A new Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine will build on the breakthrough research results of UCLA-based scientist Dr Reggie Edgerton in spinal cord injury.
  • Professor Bryce Vissel who will head the Centre being established will also conduct research in Alzeimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegerative conditions

Research aiming to reverse the paralysing effects of spinal cord injuries that devastate the lives of countless Australians and their families will soon begin at UTS.

A new Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine being established in the Faculty of Science will build on astonishing research results produced by UCLA-based scientist Dr Reggie Edgerton, welcomed to the Faculty this week by new Dean of Science, Professor Judith Smith.

Twenty paralysed people have so far had the ability to mover limbs for the first time after chronic spinal cord injury through novel new techniques pioneered by the US researcher. Results for the first twelve of these subjects have been published.

The people behind Project Edge Photo by Carmen Lee Platt The people behind Project Edge. Photo by Carmen Lee Platt

Professor Edgerton presented his discoveries to guests at a major research fundraising event launching Project Edge and and then a packed public forum hosted by UTS this week.

He was joined by neuroscientist Professor Bryce Vissel who'll lead the University’s newest science research initiative. Taking a transdisciplinary approach to its work, the centre will also seek novel treatments and cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, further enriching UTS as a centre of innovative future-focused health research.

Professor Vissel urged guests and VIPs at the event to call for and contribute to the substantial funding needed for the research which is offering the first new solutions supporting recovery in decades.

“Every day in Australia another person is paralysed from a spinal injury due to a vehicle accident, sporting injury or simple fall,” Professor Vissel said. “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.”

Prof Reg Edgerton Photo by Carmen Lee Platt Prof Reg Edgerton Photo by Carmen Lee Platt

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.

Photo by Carmen Lee Platt Photo by Carmen Lee Platt

Celebrity journalist Kerri-Anne Kennerley, whose husband John suffered partial quadriplegia from a simple accident this year shared her tragic personal experiences with the audience at the UTS public event and sent an equally urgent call for research funding and for people to donate to Project Edge.

“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 research to Australia and giving us such real reason for hope of a better life,” Ms Kennerley said.

UTS is working with SpinalCure Australia (SpinalCure) 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. 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.

“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 said.

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.

Speaking on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor, Provost Professor Peter Booth said UTS was committed to making a real difference to the community through its research, teaching and outreach.

"We have a proud history in a broad spectrum of health research and are naturally excited Professor Bryce Vissel has joined the Faculty of Science to expand our existing expertise in neuroscience," Professor Booth said.

Subject to securing funding, UTS will 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.

Now in its 21st year SpinalCure Australia 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.

To donate to this extraordinary new spinal cord research at UTS visit click here.

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