Tag Archives: spinal cord injury research

2018 Spinal Cord Injury Research

We’ve been closely monitoring spinal cord injury research and the future is brighter than ever for real treatments for paralysis. While stem cell research is the first thing that comes to mind when many think of SCI research, it is no longer the ruler of the roost. Many other treatments and studies are providing just as much hope, and we’ve outlined our favorites below. From a new antibody treatment that limits neural damage to gene therapy that can break down scar tissue, read on for the most exciting SCI research in 2018.

1. Epidural Stimulation: A New Trial Begins in 2018

Activity-based therapy has been the real hope of the spinal cord injury world for the last few years, and for good reason. This research is showing real results in humans. It works by electrically stimulating the spinal cord via an implanted simulator, and overtime many people with paralysis report real return from the stimulation. Bladder, bowel and sexual return are the most common functions people are seeing. Some leg movement, and the ability to stand is also being reported.

The University of Louisville Kentucky, where this research was originally discovered, is launching a new human trial for 2018. This new study is seeking to recruit 36 participants. Learn more here. In addition, two other epidural stimulation human trials that are currently ongoing, the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, are ending this year with further positive results expected.

2. Asterias Stem Cell Injection: Ongoing Human Trial

Asterias Biotherapeutics has been undertaking the first in-human SCI stem cell research trial since 2012, and they’re reporting 67% of their subjects in their most recent trial have recovered two or more motor levels. This study injects each participant with 20 million embryonic stem cells that are manufactured by Asterias Biotherapeutics. Read more

3. ReNet X: Human Trials Expected in 2018

Not too long ago Stephen Strittmatter, a Yale professor, discovered and developed a molecule that can block three different inhibitors, stabilize the nervous system and promote nerve regeneration. He also created an injection with the molecule and tested it on injured animals. Within three months, a third of regained full mobility. So motivated by the results, Dr. Strittmatter formed a bio company called ReNetX Bio.

So far they’ve been able to secure millions of dollars in funding for a human trial, including $15 million from the US government and $7 million from Wings for Life. RenetX Bio hopes to start their human trial in the fall of 2018. Learn more

4. Chrondotinase Research: No Human Trials Scheduled

For over 20 years Dr. Jerry Silver of the Silver Lab at Case Western University has been researching the role of glial cells and the regeneration of nerves. He’s also done extensive research on those with chronic injuries combining Chondroitinase with peptide (a protein) to dissolve/neutralize the axons that creates the scar over the injury area.

He created an injectable medicine (which they have only tested in rats and dogs) that targets the spinal cord and delivers a Chondroitinase/peptide combo. While none of his animal studies have helped injured animals get up and run again, it has proven to successfully grow axons around the injury site and make some neural connections. This year exciting news regarding their most recent research project is expected to be announced. Read more

5. Antibody Research: Human Trials Expected in 2018

Research teams at Kyoto University and Osaka University have developed an unprecedented antibody treatment that restored almost 80% of finger function in monkeys who were paralyzed. They were able to help their hands move again by using an antibody to prevent a natural protein that blocks neural regeneration. A human clinical trial is likely to be launched sometime this year in Japan. Read more

6. Neural Graft with Stem Cells: No Human Trials Scheduled

Researchers at the University of California recently made an exciting discovery when they implanted stem cell-filled grafts into the injured area of a spinal cord into a paralyzed rat – the stem cells knew where to go and they even began to grow new neural connections. While this research is only being done in rats right now, researchers believe this discovery proves that reconnecting damage circuitry in a spinal cord after an injury is possible. Read more

7. Gene Therapy: No Human Trials Scheduled, But Promising

A new area of SCI research is gene therapy. In Australia, a research project by PhD student Jarred Griffin is being funded by the Catwalk Organization. He discovered a way to use gene therapy to deliver a protein to break down scar tissue around a spinal cord. This protein delivery system also helps regrow and reconnect nerve cells, and it can lessen the injury overall. This research is still petri-dish based however. Jarred has expressed hope that his research could one day help chronic injuries. Read more

8. Lamprey Gene Research: Early Stages

Lampreys are some of the most fascinating marine life when it comes to spinal cord injuries. Within 10 weeks, a lamprey can completely recover from a completely severed spinal cord. Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory recently concluded a study that discovered humans and lampreys share some of the same genes that take part in this repair. They found an overlap of transcription factors, which are genes that signal neural regeneration. No research yet has been discussed in humans regarding this treatment. Read more

We’re seeing some exciting additions to the possible cure for paralysis in recent years. It really is remarkable. From 2018 and beyond, we can’t see what happens next. Check in with us as well as the year progresses for updates on the above research as it it released.

SCI Superstar: Sam Schmidt

Sam in his Chevrolet Corvette, driving using a straw and camera points on his hat.

Legendary is one word to describe the man that is Sam Schmidt. In the racing world, Sam Schmidt is a storied name. In the disability world, Sam Schmidt is a storied name. He makes an impact in whichever world he exists, which is exactly why he is the perfect person for our SCI Superstar series.

He may have lived with C3-4 quadriplegia for 17 years, but that doesn’t define who he is. Born into a family with racing in its blood, he started racing competitively when he was just five, and Sam’s injury has only changed the way he enjoys his life’s passion. Read on to see the ingenious ways this husband, father and businessman has re-purposed one of the things he loves most.

Why he’s fearless

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska and growing up in southern California, Sam was raised by a father who loved to race. He grew up working on race cars and his father competed in drag races, super modifieds and off-road until he was 10 years old. Even though he stopped racing after his father was injured (one side of his body became paralyzed), Sam’s fierce love for the sport never wavered. After graduating from Pepperdine University with an MBA in International Finance, he found himself back in the racing world. Working his way up through the ranks, he qualified for his first Indycar competition in 1997, and he won his first IndyCar race two years later in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas in 1999, ”My peak,” he likes to say.

Three months after winning his first IndyCar race in Orlando while practicing at the Walt Disney world speedway (in the off-season), he hit the wall and crushed his C3-4 vertebrae. His parents, wife Sheila and their two children, Spencer and Savannah (who were very young at the time), rallied to his side. The four remain a tight family unit until this day. Living in Henderson, Nevada, Sam may not be able to move his arms, but he is a hands-on father in every way, from teaching his kids to drive to being someone they look up to constantly. Watch an interview with Sam and his son

After his injury, Sam knew he needed to keep busy, which is why within a year of his injury he founded a racing team to compete in Indy Lights and IndyCar in 2001. In 2013 he teamed up with Ric Peterson. They’ve accumulated over 70 wins, 70 pole positions and seven championship wins.

Sam and James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. 8/20/2016. Courtesy of Motorsport.com

After running his racing team for 13 years, Sam was contacted by Arrow Electronics, a company based in Colorado, who wanted to develop a semi-autonomous car specifically around Sam’s abilities. Once he verified it was safe, Sam was all in. Within months, they worked together to create an amazing piece of technology – a complete mouth and head control system that allows Sam to drive a Corvette.

Sam in front of his 400+ HP Corvette, which he drives with his mouth.

In 2014, Sam first tested the car at a raceway in Indianapolis. The feeling of being behind the wheel again under his own power was unlike anything he’s felt since before his injury he says, and we can believe it. To drive he wears a pair special sunglasses that are tracked by six cameras in the vehicle. By turning his head left or right, Sam is able to steer the car. He jokes he needed to retrain his mind (and an extension, his head) to not look around while driving, as to not steer himself off the road.

To accelerate, Sam blows into a straw. To brake, he sucks in on the straw. He also uses voice commands to control other functions of the car. The entire setup is awesome. Sam says he never thought he’d be able to drive again, but now “just driving again” is going much further than that.

What’s next?

After he drove the first time post-injury on April 7, 2014, Sam wanted take the car out into the world as much as possible. He demo’d it at Long Beach Grand Prix circuit, and he impressed everyone at the Indy 500 last year when he drove a new version of the car, taking it up to 152 mph in a demonstration before the race.

Sam still wanted more. Last June, he participated in Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado, a 13 mile hill climb with over 150 turns which he completed in just 15 minutes. Not bad!

And Sam’s most recent driving feat? Amazingly the team at Arrow worked out an agreement with the Nevada DMV to create a special drivers license so he could drive on the streets, and off the racetrack. Last September, Sam became the first person in the United States to receive a special drivers license for driving a semi-autonomous vehicle! He is however required to have a co-driver with him whenever he drives.

Driving and running his racing team however are just some of his passions. His other life’s passion is raising money for spinal cord injury research, which his foundation, Conquer Paralysis Now, with the overall goal of advancing medical treatments and technologies towards a cure. Sam believes that if his foundation could raise $100 million that he could cure spinal cord injuries in just 10 years.

Whether it’s driving fast or racing towards a cure, Sam is a man in motion. He won’t be stopped, nor slowed down, no matter what he sets his sights on, and we love him for it.

Would you drive a semi-autonomous car?

– Sam’s foundation: Conquer Paralysis Now

– Sam’s racing team: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Watch videos of Sam!

ABC story they aired before the Indy 500: Sam’s Story

CBS Courage in Sports

The tech allowing a paralyzed man to drive – BBC Click

Disabled man getting license in Las Vegas, showing driverless tech’s potential

Sam Schmidt on NBC Nightly News

Pikes Peak Hill Climb