The Road to Finding a Cure for SCI
Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) can be caused by traumatic or non-traumatic events. Sports injuries, automobile accidents, diving accidents and falls are common causes of traumatic SCI. The majority of these injuries occur when fragments of bone or vertebrae tear into the spinal cord and disrupt the network of nerves that carries signals through the body. Diseases such as cancer, arthritis and osteoporosis can cause non-traumatic SCI.
Just like there are varying causes of SCI, there are varying levels of functionality following a spinal cord injury. The American Spinal Injury Association developed the ASIA impairment scale to determine and classify functionality following an SCI. A test performed by specially trained physicians can determine which classification is appropriate following the injury.
In the least severe cases, SCI can result in minor to intense pain. An incomplete injury refers to SCI where movement and sensation is affected in varying degrees. A more severe SCI can cause complete injury, resulting in total loss of function. Usually, the effects of SCI are felt below the point of injury, so the higher the injury is on the spinal cord, the more significant the impact will be on the body.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, spinal cord injured individuals will most likely have medical complications such as chronic pain and bladder and bowel dysfunction, along with an increased susceptibility to respiratory and heart problems.
Understanding the causes, functionality and levels of pain associated with SCI is essential to working toward finding a cure. Researchers are making significant progress in the understanding and treatment of SCI every day. In fact, the progress has been so significant that Conquer Paralysis Now (CPN) believes a cure is finally within reach.
CPN’s definition of "cure" involves showing significant improvement in humans in at least two target functions. These could be functions such as bowel and bladder control, reaching and grasping, sexual function and over-ground walking.
Backed by an international coalition of doctors, researchers and business leaders who share the goal of finding a cure, we hope to stimulate more breakthroughs at a faster pace through our recently launched CPN Challenge program.
This program plans to award nearly $20 million in grants and prizes over the next 10 years. The first team that can reach unprecedented improvement in every day functions of people living with chronic SCI will win the $10 million Grand Prize.
The CPN Challenge program is divided into three stages of increasing difficulty. Stage I grants will recur annually for the first six years of the Challenge program. Following this, Stage II will set significant milestone prizes for translating basic science into animal and human application. Together, these stages will guide the research community toward the final $10 million prize in Stage III.
Stage I has been launched with the ambition of providing seed funding to a wide range of non-traditional approaches. Many novel ideas never get off the ground because they lack the initial data needed to win traditional research grants. Stage I grants seek to bridge this gap by giving disruptive approaches an initial 'push' so they can gain access to traditional funding sources. These funds can support them as they progress to translational research and clinical trials in Stages II and III. The submission deadline for the first round of Stage I grants is April 1, 2015.
Stage II is designed as a 'stepping stone' between the initial research of Stage I and the robust demonstration of functional recovery in Stage III. In Stage II, the challenge is to demonstrate statistically significant (rather than functionally significant, as in Stage III) results in animals and humans, performed in chronic injury models.
In conjunction with the Challenge, CPN will also provide doctors and researchers with a platform to share successes and failures through Trial & Error prizes. This will reduce duplication of failed research and help us develop a cure faster. We believe the funding provided and the collaborative nature of the CPN Challenge program will accelerate the pace of research to the point that a cure will be possible within the next decade.