More than 12,000 Australians are living with spinal cord injury and there is at least one new occurrence every day.
However, whereas once the prospect of regeneration and recovery carried more hope than substance, today the outlook is much more positive.
Perry Cross was just 19 when he was left a C2 quadriplegic after breaking his neck playing rugby, but in the 20 years since then the inspirational Gold Coaster has dedicated himself to finding a cure for paralysis.
A vital part of that mission is making good progress at Griffith University where, thanks to funding from the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation, scientists at the Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery are midway through a three-year, $150,000 research project into spinal cord injury.
Mr Cross visited the Eskitis Institute last week to receive an update on the work and emerged delighted with what he described as “real progress towards tangible results”.
“It’s been 20 years since I was injured and it was a different world back then, especially when it came to the treatment of paralysis,” he said.
“Now, given advances in medical technology, scientific research and understanding, attitudes are changing as the possibility for recovery becomes ever more real.
“Visiting Eskitis, catching up with the research team and seeing some of the work being done here, I believe more firmly than ever that one day we will have a cure for paralysis.”
Project Leader Dr James St John and his team of researchers are working on processes by which glial cells from the olfactory mucosa – located in the upper region of the nasal cavity – are relocated to the damaged spinal cord. Glial cells are the supporting cells of the nervous system and can help nerve fibres to regenerate.
Researchers are also trialling specialised growth factors that can both reduce the damage that occurs after a spinal cord injury and improve recovery of function.
“Technology and techniques have come so far,” said Dr St John. “We’re using live cell imaging, 3D complex cell assays, in vivo spinal injury models, natural product analysis and many other processes as we seek the key to restoring movement after paralysis.
“This is very promising for people with spinal cord injuries and it is the support from people like Perry Cross that keeps this important work going.”
For more information or to donate to spinal research, visit http://www.griffith.edu.au/science-aviation/eskitis-institute