From our inception in 1946, Paralyzed Veterans of America has pursued a mission beyond simply ensuring that the health-care and benefits needs of veterans with spinal cord injury (SCI) are met. That mission has always also included promoting research into a cure for paralysis as well as improved care for individuals with SCI until that cure is found.
For decades, merely helping veterans survive traumatic SCI was the most pressing challenge of the medical and scientific communities, as SCI sharply reduced life expectancy and quality of life was compromised. Today, life expectancy following SCI has improved to near normal. And thanks to better understanding of spinal cord injury and dysfunction through research, quality of life for these individuals gets better every day.
Our Research Foundation advances spinal cord medicine and improvements in care and treatments by promoting innovative research, supporting and encouraging new investigators to specialize in the field of SCI/D, funding efforts to improve the quality of life for people with SCI/D and funding young investigators through postdoctoral fellowships and innovative pilot research.
The Research Foundation’s 12 new grants for 2011, totaled $1,496,574, and include the following range of study.
- A team at Duke University Medical Center is investigating alternatives to antibiotics in treating the recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI) associated with use of catheters in veterans with loss of bladder function. As antibiotics too often produce drug-resistant bacteria, one focus here is on lactoferrin, a natural antibacterial protein that might treat and prevent UTI, eliminating the threat of drug resistance.
- A Northwestern University team is working with brain-machine interfaces that convert brain signals to commands that activate paralyzed muscles. The specific project goal is to decode signals for hand function, bringing closer the day when a paralyzed individual can use his or her hands by simply thinking of the action required.
- At Drexel University, a team led is investigating a way to relieve the devastating neuropathic pain suffered by more than two-thirds of individuals with SCI, the result of damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord causing incorrect signals to be transmitted to the brain. The focus is on restoring normal levels of neurotrophic factors (GDNF), molecules that help sensory nerves in the spinal cord survive trauma.
- Individuals with SCI who use wheelchairs for mobility must rely on their shoulders for all daily activities—repetitive activities and weight-bearing tasks that the shoulder is not able to endure. The result: up to 50 percent of people with SCI suffer from shoulder pain. A Mayo Clinic project will study the efficacy of an exercise program to reduce or eliminate pain by restoring shoulder function and increasing shoulder strength, using online instruction and inexpensive equipment that can be used at home.
Through these investigations as well as those of our other grantees, Paralyzed Veterans continues to lead the way in funding of research for new treatments, technologies and innovations to improve the lives of veterans—and all people—living with spinal cord injury or dysfunction.