The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is proud to announce its Spinal Cord Injury on the Translational Spectrum (SCIRTS) portfolio is awarding $10 million in new grants. When the Foundation began its grantmaking in 2003, it awarded one research grant totaling $200,000. Twenty years later, it has awarded a total of 519 SCIRTS grants, amounting to more than $148.5 million in research support.
The SCIRTS portfolio encourages creativity and leadership in the field of spinal cord injury (SCI) research in three categories. It supports early career Postdoctoral Fellowships, as well as Pilot Research Grants that enable junior or established scientists to test procedures and collect data needed to initiate larger, more conclusive studies and clinical trials, and Senior Research Grants, which support and encourage new thinking in SCI treatments.
In the early years of the portfolio, many of the proposals we received reflected the field’s focus on cells and regeneration. Over time, researchers have heard the voice of people with lived experience and our support has evolved to include more funding for work related to issues and activities that impact the daily life of people with SCI. Studies aimed at pain relief and improving the function of organ systems throughout the body are now as common as those aimed at restoring movement or sensation.
By understanding the needs of people living with SCI and expanding our partnerships, the hope is we can develop solutions to alleviate dysfunction and improve an individual’s quality of life. Our grantee partners are finding creative new ways of thinking about and understanding how the spinal cord’s systems change after injury. Translating that new knowledge into improved medical approaches is the ultimate goal.
A third of the funded projects in 2023 are continuing work using electrical stimulation, either directly or in combination with other therapies. This research is helping scientists develop treatments for the many secondary conditions connected to SCI, including breathing, bowel, bladder, and cardiovascular issues. Other researchers are pursuing ways to protect or repair the nerves in the spinal cord following an injury. These involve efforts to understand how the damage in the cord happens and determine how specific therapies could prevent or reverse that damage to improve recovery.
A point of pride for the Neilsen Foundation’s staff is the steady stream of applications for our Postdoctoral Fellowships because today’s postdocs are tomorrow’s leaders in the field. Postdocs supported by our grants have more than double the national average of placement in research faculty positions. Some of these professors, who started their careers with a SCIRTS Postdoctoral Fellowship, have become inspiring mentors and pioneers, making breakthroughs in SCI research, and encouraging the next generation of scientists to rethink what’s possible.