Griffith researchers working towards spinal cord injury cure

JAMIE MURRAY

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Eskitis Institute of Drug Discovery home to the research.Photo: Jamie Murray

Researchers at Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute of Drug Discovery are closer to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Recently the institute received a donation of $267,000 from the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation that will act as a kick start for the next phase of research.

Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation president and founder, Perry Cross, is positive about the researcher’s progress, although more funding is needed.

“The cost overall is about $700,000 a year to do that research, so we’ve only really put a little dent in it,” Mr Cross said.

Research leader Dr James St John welcomed the donation.

“The fact that we can now develop a therapy to repair the injured spinal cord here at Griffith University and south-east Queensland is fantastic,” Dr St John said.

“We have the world’s best facilities and are building a large team of clinicians and researchers including surgeons, physiotherapists, cell biologists, chemists and engineers. By having such a diverse team we are covering everything from the science, to the surgery, to the rehabilitation which will give us the best chance for success.”

Researchers believe that the cure can be found in a special type of cell from the olfactory system, the part of the sensory system that gives us the ability to smell, which would be transplanted into the site of the injury.

The olfactory system is unique as it contains cells that regenerate daily in turn creating stem cells.

“The nerve cells that detect odours are exposed to pathogens and chemicals and they die and they are replaced by stem cells,” said Dr St John.

It has already been found that it is possible to restore function to the spinal cord after it has been severed and now researchers hope to refine the process of doing so.

The research comprises of two phases, the pre-clinical phase, and the clinical trials phase which includes efforts to further improve the approach towards therapy.

The pre-clinical phase will take place over the next three years costing a total of $2.1 million over that period and the clinical trials phase, costing a total of approximately $5 million, will begin in 2018 and sees the research being put into practical use.

Reducing the time that patients need to be in hospital by developing a better rehabilitation program is one of the goals of the research and clinical trials.

Research is being primarily directed to patients who suffer from contusion based spinal cord injury.

An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people in Australia are living with spinal cord injury with over 300 new cases occurring each year with approximately 46 percent caused by road incidents.

It is estimated that spinal cord injuries costs Australia up to $2 billion each year.

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