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.


Famed triathlete racing for quadriplegics

October 17, 2017
The San Diego Union-Tribune

ENCINITAS, CA (The San Diego Union-Tribune) — Twenty years ago this week, Encinitas triathlete Sian Welch crawled across the finish line and into sports history at the 1997 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. The infamous fifth-place win, where she and fellow athlete Wendy Ingraham completed the grueling race on their hands and knees, has become a world-famous depiction of the never-give-up perseverance of Ironman competitors. 

Economic recovery extends to 18 months for Americans with disabilities

October 6, 2017
Kessler Foundation

EAST HANOVER, NJ (Kessler Foundation) — Americans with disabilities continue to close in on pre-recession employment levels with yet another month of strong job numbers, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment – Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). This extends the record trend to 18 consecutive months for this population. 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Hosts International Symposium on Adaptive Technology for Music and Art

October 6, 2017

TROY, NY (Newswise.com) — The International Symposium on Assistive Technology for Music and Art (ISATMA) will be held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute October 20 -22. The symposium is devoted to new technologies and artistic concepts that provide artists across abilities access to creative tools for making multimedia works. 

Sexuality after SCI

October 5, 2017
Mt. Sinai Hospital

NEW YORK, NY (Mt. Sinai Hospital) — This project was created through a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and support from community partners to provide more educational resources about sex, sexuality and intimacy after spinal cord injury. These videos were shot during a one day medical professional’s conference and a two day consumer conference at Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York City. 

ECU Notes: Drug research targets neuropathic pain

October 1, 2017

GREENVILLE, NC (Reflector.com) — Scientists at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University are researching a novel approach to treating the debilitating pain that commonly occurs after a spinal cord injury. Their work is supported by a new two-year, $300,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. 


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.

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