Funding boost for spinal injury research

13 February 2009

Researchers have received a $5 million dollar grant for spinal research.
Researchers have received a $5 million dollar grant for spinal research.

Sydney University's leading spinal injury specialists have been awarded almost $5 million over five years to study the effects of physical activity neurological recovery and functional outcomes after spinal cord injury.

Three of the  projects are ambitious multi-centred trials involving an array of different interventions including electrically-stimulated exercises for the paralysed muscles and computer-based training for the quadriplegic hand. A fourth project aims to improve access and assistance to community based gym facilities for people with spinal cord injuries.

All  of  the projects are directed at promoting recovery and optimising function following spinal cord injury. The projects will determine the effectiveness of novel interventions administered at different stages after injury.

The Sydney team is being led by Dr Lisa Harvey, an academic from the Faculty of Medicine, and Associate Professor Glen Davis, Director of the Rehabilitation Research Centre within the Faculty of Health Sciences. Both have extensive clinical and research experience in the area of spinal cord injury.

Part of a national team headed by Professor Mary Galea of the University of Melbourne, the team's research program is entitled "SCIPA; Spinal Cord Injury and Physical Activity: Promoting neural recovery following spinal cord injury through exercise".

"The program will be the first of its kinds and will co-ordinate research efforts across Australia and New Zealand," said Dr Harvey

"Other parts of the program will assess whether vigorous physical activity including treadmill walking and electrically stimulated leg exercise will improve neurological recovery both immediately after spinal cord injury and for individuals with chronic disability," remarked Professor Davis.

The clinical trials aim to use new rehabilitation strategies directed at neuromuscular activation below the level of the injury and will involve all seven spinal units in Australia and New Zealand.

The three Sydney spinal injury units will be integral to the success of the program and the Associate Investigators from the clinical sites include Dr Stella Engel, Dr Bon San Bonne Lee, Ms Julia Batty and Ms Marsha Ben. Associate Professor James Middleton (Medicine), Dr Che Fornusek (Health Sciences) and Dr Jacqui Raymond (Health Sciences) round out the investigators from the University of Sydney team.

The grant, provided by the Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative (VNI), is part of more than $19 million for research in brain and spinal cord injury.  Every year, there are about 290 new cases of spinal cord injury in Australia and about 30,000 new traumatic brain injury hospital admissions.  These injuries result in lifelong disability, often occurring between the ages of 15 and 40 and coinciding with important life events such as career development, establishing families, and completion of education and training.


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