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A new medical research centre established at Griffith University is offering hope to those suffering from spinal cord injury – progressing ground-breaking work that could see paralysed patients walking and feeling again.

Researchers at the Griffith University Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, opened by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, are preparing to conduct clinical trials by 2018 focused on restoring motor and sensory function to badly injured people.

Research team leader Dr James St John said the initiative was building on research conducted around the world in the past 20 years, which involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells from the nose into injured spinal cords to form a cellular bridge. This enables nerve cells to regenerate and make functional motor and sensory connections.

“The medical research being done here at this centre could transform the lives of people with an acquired brain injury or a spinal injury. And the first tests are very encouraging,” the Premier said at the opening.

“I want to thank (Vice Chancellor) Ian O’Connor and Dr James St John for the outstanding leadership happening here at Griffith University.

“This is about taking medical research to the next steps. It is ground breaking research.”

Repairing spinal cords

Dr St John said his team was currently focused on refining cellular aspects of the process, which was a crucial part of repairing spinal cords and could also have implications for the treatment of acquired brain injuries.

“This exciting therapy now offers hope to those who live with spinal cord injury that paralysis does not have to be forever,” he said.

“To some degree, it is already proven that this process can work but we need to improve the results.

“One of the keys to that is working out how to stimulate the cells to grow and migrate faster and to find specific cells that do those things when we need them to.

“We are getting some fantastic results already and are unbelievably excited about it.”

Building on global success

There has been some success in restoring movement to paralysed patients with the use of robots but so far researchers have been unable to work out how to re-establish the sensations of touch and temperature. Both motor and sensory function could be restored with cellular therapy.

Dr St John said an innovative approach was being used to get the results needed to progress to the clinical trial phase, which involved improved cell purification, 3D bioprinting and natural product drug discovery.

The therapy has its origins in Queensland with now retired Prof Alan Mackay-Sim, from Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute, who led the world’s first phase one clinical trial in 2002, which demonstrated its safety in patients with spinal paralysis.

More than 12,000 Australians currently live with spinal paralysis and each year 300 people are diagnosed with the condition.

(Source: Griffith University)

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Dates

Posted On: 3 July, 2016
Modified On: 8 July, 2016

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