SCI Superstar: Wise Young

Maybe his parents were onto something calling him Wise. Thrusted into the world of spinal cord injuries after a surgery internship at NYU (he decided to join their neurosurgery department, eventually becoming director of neuroresearch), Dr. Wise Young has been one of the leading spinal cord injury researchers since 1984. If you have a spinal cord injury, knowing who this amazing man is paramount.

And while the cure isn’t here yet, he continues searching for it fervently. From promoting research in China where spinal cord injuries are more common than in any other country (there are approximately 80,000 new spinal cord injuries every year there) to the latest human trials he’s spearheading here in the States, here’s everything you need to know about one of our great champions.

Why he’s fearless

Back in the 1980’s, when everyone was saying no, there is no hope for a cure, you’ll never walk again, Dr. Wise Young was one of the few doctors saying yes. From nerve rerouting, walking therapy, umbilical cord blood transplants using Lithium, adult and embryonic stem cell research, Dr. Wise has dabbled in all types of spinal cord injury research.

He was part of the 1990 team that discovered steroids (high-dose methylprednisolone) were effective in treating acute spinal cord injuries, and he developed the first standardized rat spinal cord injury model used worldwide for testing therapies (huge deal). And in 1995, when Christopher Reeve was injured, it was Dr. Wise Young he called, and no wonder. He is a beacon of hope (they were close friends until Chris’s death in 2004).

For the past several years, Dr. Wise Young has been the director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience and he’s a professor at Rutgers. This is how I first found out who he was actually, after using the awesome Carecure message boards (that he created) made for people with SCI to interact and get hard-to-find SCI information (there’s even a “SCI Nurse” on the boards there to help).

And not surprisingly, Dr. Wise been a bit of a media darling. He’s been on 20/20 (along with Christopher Reeve), 48 Hours, CNN and he’s been profiled in Life and Time magazine (just to scratch the surface). This guy is a rockstar in the research world.

And it was Chinese dancer, Sang Lang (who was in NYC as a gymnast to compete in the Goodwill Games in 1998, becoming paralyzed during a warm-up on the vault), when Dr. Wise began to think about bringing spinal cord injury research to China (less limitations government-wise, and they have money). She asked him when she had to go back to China, “If a cure is found in the US, how will I be able to get it in China?,” so he promised her (and he stayed true to that promise) that he would make sure he could still help.

In 2005, he founded ChinaSCINet, a group of 20+ research centers spattered across China where they test promising therapies in clinical trials. No hard and fast cure has been found yet, but it’s one of the most exciting things to happen in finding a cure. And his program has branched into India, with 24 centers, and in Norway.

What’s next?

Knowing his research can’t stay in China indefinitely, with hundreds of SCI folks in the US itching to take part in clinical trials too, Dr. Wise Young has been able to start a six human clinical trials using umbilical cord therapy at some of the top rehab hospitals in the US, including Shepherd, Colorado, Detroit, Kessler and Mt. Sinai. He’s eagerly trying to rein in as much money as possible to fund these trials.

Dr. Wise Young won’t stop. He simply can’t. He lives to cure spinal cord injury. When a cure is eventually found, you can bet he will have a hand in it.

What spinal cord injury therapy do you think holds the most promise? Do you follow Dr. Wise Young’s research?

Watch the videos!

Dr. Wise Young speaks to fellow researchers about recent spinal cord injury research (and progress) in China

Dr. Wise Young speaking at a benefit in Texas on US trials

Dr. Wise Young talks about how nerve axons regrow

Dr. Wise Young talks about umbilical cord transplants and the Carecure message board

Dr. Wise Young speaking at the Working2Walk Rally (awesome annual event) in 2010

Quadriplegic rapper Professir X’s song for Dr. Wise Young

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