On Our Minds


July 27, 2017 – Momentum is growing rapidly in research on stimulating the spinal cord to restore function after spinal cord injury. This is based on a recent report that an independent site (Mayo Clinic) has repeated findings at the University of Louisville and their collaborators at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Neilsen Foundation, along with other funders, has contributed support to these efforts.

While people often refer to the spinal cord as being “severed,” that is rarely the case. It has long been known that some nerves survive around the edges of the injury site after even the most serious injuries. There was no evidence, however, that these nerves conveyed useful information to the otherwise intact spinal circuits below the site of injury. That all changed in 2011, when researchers stimulated the surface of a person’s spinal cord below the injury with a commercial “epidural” stimulator commonly used to treat pain syndromes. They were attempting to improve the spinal cord’s ability to coordinate stepping but found that, with the stimulator on, the research volunteers could move their feet and legs on command. As these studies progressed, hints emerged that, in some cases, stimulation might also benefit functions such as bladder, circulation and breathing.

Today, these and other laboratories are addressing the many questions raised by these observations. Among the multiple research directions yet to be explored, the first question is: what is going on? That is, how is the stimulation having these effects and can stimulators that aren’t surgically implanted also work? These answers will come from a combination of animal studies and more clinical testing. The important clinical question is: how reliable (and how safe) is this? That is, will it move from being a laboratory observation to being a bona fide treatment strategy? We need to know much more about where and in what patterns to effectively apply stimulation, how variable it is for different people, and whether stimulation actually modifies how the spinal cord itself functions over the long-term.

That is where researchers at Louisville, UCLA and Mayo as well as other centers (e.g., the University of Minnesota) continue to do what are still relatively early-stage explorations with research volunteers. Meanwhile, laboratory researchers are trying to understand, at the level of spinal cord nerve fibers, how these Rip Van Winkle connections can be awakened and how best to recruit them to restore reliable function.


It’s Not a Rat’s Race for Human Stem Cells Grafted to Repair Spinal Cord Injuries

August 28, 2017
UC San Diego Health

SAN DIEGO, CA (UC San Diego Health) — More than one-and-a-half years after implantation, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center report that human neural stem cells (NSCs) grafted into spinal cord injuries in laboratory rats displayed continued growth and maturity, with functional recovery beginning one year after grafting.

Therapeutic Cocktail Could Restore Motor Skills After Spinal Cord Injury, Stroke

August 16, 2017

BOSTON, MA (EurekAlert!) — After spinal cord injury or stroke, axons originating in the brain’s cortex and along the spinal cord become damaged, disrupting motor skills. Now, according to new findings published today in Neuron, a team of scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital has developed a method to promote axon regrowth after injury. 

The Creative Access Residency Program expands opportunities for artists and writers with SCI

July 6, 2017
Vermont Studio Center

JOHNSON, VT (Vermont Studio Center) — The Creative Access Residencies Program, funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation’s Creating Opportunity & Independence Project Grant, is expanding opportunities for artists and writers with spinal cord injury (SCI). This exciting residency fellowship program helps to further the creative careers of artists with SCI while championing accessibility and inclusiveness within the larger sector of artist communities/residencies.

Dr. Denise Fyffe of Kessler Foundation Awarded Major Grant by Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

June 15, 2017

EAST HANOVER, NJ (EurekAlert!) — Denise Fyffe, PhD, senior research scientist in Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)/Outcomes and Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation, has been awarded a $392,000 Craig H. Neilsen Foundation grant to explore personal and environmental factors that influence functional independence and community participation of racial/ethnically diverse people with SCI. 

Funder With a Niche Focus on Spinal Cord Injuries Packs a Surprisingly Big Punch

May 8, 2017
Inside Philanthropy

BOSTON, MA (Inside Philanthropy) — Charitable organizations are often founded in a beloved individual’s name and dedicated to a particular health condition. What’s less common is one with the level of endowment and annual giving of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, a private foundation devoted to helping people with spinal cord injuries. 

nTIDE March 2017 Jobs Report: Americans With Disabilities Reach Milestone With Full Year of Job Gains

April 7, 2017

EAST HANOVER, NJ (Marketwired) — Americans with disabilities continue to outpace their counterparts with disabilities, achieving a full year of job gains, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment – Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). 

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