An Australian-first rehabilitation trial considered the next crucial step in treating paralysis will proceed after a record donation from the country’s leading spinal injury research foundation.

The $450,000 commitment from the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation will allow five people with paralysis to complete an intensive 16-week training program at a state-of-the-art facility to test the feasibility of a planned Griffith University human clinical trial.

Once the program is completed, participants will return home and continue a personalised program of rehabilitation activities for another10 weeks, supported by app and online consultations with service providers, health experts and peer groups.

Starting in February 2021, the Intensive Rehabilitation Trial is the next phase of Griffith University’s Spinal Injury Project (SIP), led by Associate Professors James St John and Jenny Ekberg. The Spinal Injury Project is a major project of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research at Griffith University.

“We’ve been working towards this for a long time and are very excited to be at the stage now where we can start this clinical trial,’’ Professor St John said.

“It all came about because of the initial vision and funding from the Clem Jones Foundation in 2016.”

The Spinal Injury Project is one of the world’s best hopes of finding a cure for paralysis and focuses on delivering a revolutionary nasal cell transplantation into the spinal cord injury site of victims.

SIP team member Dr Mike Todorovic said the essential philanthropic funding guarantee would allow researchers to test whether people with paralysis could meet the intense physical and mental demands of an intense rehabilitation program following cell therapy treatment.

“We are determined to find a quality model for the rehabilitation aspect of the Spinal Injury Project and the incredible generosity of our donors means we will now be able to do that.”

He said before embarking on a human clinical trial of the Olfactory Cell Transplantation, it was important to know what people with paralysis could achieve in an intensive program and how best to support them.

“It is a crucial step in our journey to find a cure for paralysis and it is exciting to know we will soon be working closely with five people with paralysis to evaluate their physical and emotional responses to an activity-based program.”

“There are significant costs involved in undertaking a research project as complex as SIP and we cannot thank the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation enough for helping bring us closer to changing countless lives.”

The donation will enable the SIP team to appoint a contract research organisation to scope the trial, including the establishment of a database and protocol development and approvals.

An independent body will then recruit five participants from south-east Queensland and northern NSW to commence the trial at Making Strides on the Gold Coast, one of Australia’s most highly regarded spinal injury rehabilitation specialists.

Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation Executive President Perry Cross said his organisation was committed to raising a further $916,000 to fund the addition of 10 more participants to the Intensive Rehabilitation Trial.

“The SIP researchers need a robust data set to work from and that means more people with paralysis will be required to complete the program in coming months,” he said.

“As the trial has to be accessible to all Australians, the next intake will include five people from other states, border restrictions permitting, and given the substantial costs involved, we need to raise more than $900,000 to ensure this incredible work can continue.

“Our foundation has helped fund more than eight research projects and initiatives across the past 10 years and raised more than $12 million and our belief in the ground-breaking work being done by the SIP team is evident by the fact this is our largest individual donation to date.”