Funding boost for world-leading spinal injury research

A $2 million funding boost from the Queensland Government will ensure a team of Griffith University researchers get to work on some of the most promising advances in spinal cord injury treatment in the world.

Based at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, the BioSpine research program aims to combine thought-control, technological aids, electrical stimulation and drug therapy with the aim of restoring lower limb function to people with a spinal injury.

The Queensland Government funding is provided through the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC), which regulates the state’s Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance scheme.

Queensland’s Insurance Commissioner Neil Singleton joined Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate and Queensland Government Assistant Minister Meaghan Scanlan to meet with Griffith Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans and members of the research team at their Southport laboratory today to launch the BioSpine initiative.

With a combined team of up to 15 researchers and access to an international network of more than 90 collaborators, the flagship program will develop next-generation intelligent approaches to training, treatment, surgery planning and rehabilitation, addressing neuromusculoskeletal (neurological and orthopaedic) and vascular (cardio and neuro vascular) conditions.

Professor Evans welcomed the generous support from MAIC and said it would enable what is a transformative research opportunity.

“Rehabilitation for spinal cord injury has traditionally been quite slow and limited, and even with recent advances in robotic rehabilitation equipment has not been personalised to the patient or combined with thought control,” Professor Evans said.

“Our researchers are developing a platform technology to create a digital twin model of the patient to tailor treatment and then empower the patient to take control through a brain-computer interface.

“MAIC’s commitment to this world-leading research is in addition to previous financial support for promising research into a regenerative medicine treatment for the injured spinal cord through stem cell transplation. Funding for both innovative initiatives will help cement the university’s reputation in spinal cord injury research.”

BioSpine research team lead, Dr Dinesh Palipana said the study has the potential to increase motor and sensory capabilities below the site of injury, which could mean the return of some function in lower limbs.

“This grant will help us bring together some of the most promising advances in human history for spinal cord injury,” he said.

“There is evidence from leading centres around the world that using thought control, electrical simulation and drug therapy in an attempt to restore function in paralysis is showing success – and we are excited to take this journey and bring these approaches together for the first time.”

In 2010, Dr Palipana was involved in a road crash and suffered a quadriplegic injury.

“Griffith University helped me with the challenging task of becoming a doctor with quadriplegia. Now, we look at changing things for so many people living with paralysis. That is not a small goal, but a real one,” he said.

BioSpine co-lead Dr Claudio Pizzolato, a Research Fellow at Griffith University, said the funding provided an incredible opportunity to create disruptive technologies with the potential to change people’s lives.

“Our approach involves collaborating with spinal cord injury patients, clinicians, researchers and engineers from the beginning in order to create a technology that works and is easy to use in clinics and hospitals.”

Dr Palipana and Dr Pizzolato have commenced patent processing with hopes that BioSpine will be commercially available in six to eight years.

Mr Singleton (pictured) said road crashes are one of the leading causes of spinal cord injury in Australia with an estimated cost to the Australian healthcare system and society of $2 billion per year.

“There are more than 12,000 people in Australia currently living with some form of serious spinal cord injury,” he said.

“Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of spinal cord injury, responsible for almost half of the 300 to 400 new cases reported across Australia each year.

“While MAIC is working hard supporting Queensland road safety initiatives to reduce the number of crashes and injuries on Queensland roads, sadly some crashes will occur.

“It is therefore important that we support brilliant and dedicated researchers like Dr Palipana and Dr Pizzolato – and the entire team here at the Gold Coast Griffith University – in their ground breaking research to improve health outcomes for injured people and reduce the effects of serious spinal cord injury.”

Mr Singleton said MAIC has a legislative function to provide funds for research, infrastructure and education to improve the rehabilitation of people injured in motor vehicle crashes. These enhancements help to support an effective and affordable CTP insurance scheme and improve the lives of people who have been injured.

Last modified 25 November 2019