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Advancing Groundbreaking Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury

Synopsis: Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation and Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Unite to advance groundbreaking therapy for SCI.1

Author: Wings for Life World Run Contact:

Published: 2015-03-05

Main Digest

It all started with a single toe. Even today, Dr. Susan Harkema recalls the words spoken by one of the research participants: "Look Susie, I can move my toe."

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury to the spinal cord resulting in a change, either temporary or permanent, in the cord's normal motor, sensory, or autonomic function A spinal cord injury, damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal, often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of function to occur. Depending on where the spinal cord and nerve roots are damaged, the symptoms can vary widely, from pain to paralysis to incontinence.

The patient's name was Rob Summers and he was completely paralyzed from the neck down. After a car accident he was told he would never be able to walk again. But just a few weeks after Harkema had implanted an electrical stimulator wired to the spinal cord, the unthinkable suddenly became reality. Rob slowly started to move his limbs. He was the first of four patients who received epidural electrical stimulation during experimental therapy. In a world where spinal cord injury is still deemed irreversible, the stimulation of nerves that were thought to be lost was considered nothing short of a medical miracle.

Today, in a powerful statement for the progression of spinal cord injury research, the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation announced they have joined forces to expand Dr. Harkema's groundbreaking work. The partnership will enable researchers to move forward with a breakthrough clinical study that will likely commence in mid-2015.

The study, called The Big Idea, will test the hypothesis in 36 individuals living with spinal cord injury that epidural stimulation can be used to recover a significant level of autonomic control. A special group of eight patients will be funded with a significant part of the proceeds from the inaugural Wings for Life World Run, held in 2014. The global running event, which saw thousands of athletes start at the very same time in 34 locations around the globe, generated $4.1 million to foster promising spinal cord research projects. The event will be held again on May 3, 2015.

"Our ultimate goal is to get to the finish line as quickly as possible," said Peter Wilderotter, President and CEO of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. "Wings for Life and the Reeve Foundation share the same philosophy when it comes to research, and we certainly share the same mission. It is rare for two nonprofits to join forces but when you have the ability to change lives in the here-and-now, it is critical to leverage resources and lock arms for the sake of the millions living with paralysis worldwide. We believe that together, we can help mobilize people to support this research and get us there quicker."

"Dr. Harkema's study is a unique example based on solid science, culminating over the last 30 years into a front-runner study, aiming to make a difference for patients with spinal cord injury," said Wings for Life scientific director Jan Schwab.

However, much work is still left to be done:

"The Wings for Life Foundation and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation joining forces is incredible and it means that we can move this forward at a much faster pace," said Dr. Susan Harkema, University of Louisville professor. "I'd like to thank all the participants and runners of the Wings for Life World Run and encourage people to join again on May 3, 2015."

More about Wings for Life and the Wings for Life World Run

Worldwide, millions of people are dependent on a wheelchair after having sustained a spinal cord injury. The leading causes are traffic accidents and falls. Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation. Its mission is to find a cure for spinal cord injury. Since 2004, Wings for Life funds life-changing research projects and clinical trials around the globe. While the cure is still to be found, steady progress has been made. The $4.1 million raised through the inaugural Wings for Life World Run and all future entry fees and sponsorship of this global running event will help work towards that ultimate goal. Every step taken at the Wings for Life World Run is a step in the right direction -

The 2015 Wings for Life World Run will be held on May 3, (11am UTC) in 35 locations around the world simultaneously. Go to to learn more and register. 100% of the registration fees will go directly to fund research to cure spinal cord injuries.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy. The foundation recently launched the most ambitious effort in its history - The Big Idea - to raise $15 million to fund the next phase of epidural stimulation research and bring life-changing therapy to more individuals living with spinal cord injuries. They meet all 20 of the Better Business Bureau's standards for charity accountability and hold the BBB's Charity Seal. For more information, please visit the website at

More about Epidural Stimulation Research

Epidural stimulation is the application of continuous electrical current - at varying frequencies and intensities - to specific locations on the lower part of the spinal cord. It involves an implanted device over the dura of the lumbar cord (the protective coating of the lower section of the spinal cord) where the central pattern generator (CPG) exists. The CPG is like a mini-brain within the spinal cord that is able to interpret sensory information. Epidural stimulation is used to activate the nerve circuits in the spinal cord to provide signals that would normally come from the brain.

In simpler terms, a stimulator is placed inside the body and wired to the spinal cord. The stimulator is controlled by a remote about the size of a smart phone. When the stimulator is on, commands such as "move my right leg" result in movement. In a way, the electrical pulses "awaken" the nerve cells in the spinal cord. For more information about epidural stimulation and The Big Idea, please visit

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Quick Facts:

Today, improved emergency care for people with spinal cord injuries, antibiotics to treat infections, and aggressive rehabilitation can minimize damage to the nervous system and restore function to varying degrees. Advances in research are giving doctors and people living with SCI hope that spinal cord injuries will eventually be repairable. With new surgical techniques and developments in spinal nerve regeneration, cell replacement, neuro-protection, and neuro-rehabilitation, the future for spinal cord injury survivors looks brighter than ever.


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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Wings for Life World Run. Electronic Publication Date: 2015-03-05. Title: Advancing Groundbreaking Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury, Source: <a href=>Advancing Groundbreaking Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury</a>. Retrieved 2021-03-09, from - Reference: DW#248-11312.