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The Victorian Spinal Cord Service

An innovative program that aims to improve the lives of people living with spinal cord injury has received a $25,000 Slater and Gordon Health Project Research Fund grant.

The Victorian Spinal Cord Service, part of Austin Health, will use the grant to conduct research that it hopes will eventually lead to people with spinal cord injuries gaining better hand function.

Upper Limb Program physiotherapist Bridget Hill said 12 patients with significant spinal cord injuries will take part in the program.

“Each of the patients will undergo MRI scans that will examine brain activity before they have nerve transfer surgery and again nine to 12 months later,” Ms Hill said.

“We will compare responses from individuals with similar injuries and surgeries and explore variations in each person’s capacity to “alter their brain map” during rehabilitation. Our findings will then be compared with brain activity in people with no upper limb nerve injury.”

Ms Hill said recent research had shown that the brain had a remarkable ability to retrain itself and create new nerve pathways through a process called cortical or neural plasticity.

“In Victoria, there are approximately 95 people with new traumatic spinal cord injuries each year, which results in significant loss of use of their arms and hands and affects their ability to perform even the simplest day-to-day activities.

“Improved hand function is the most sought after ability by people with paralysis of the arm and we hope our research we can help them achieve that goal,” Ms Hill said

Slater and Gordon Head of Personal Injury Law Janine Gregory said the firm’s Health Research Project Fund was established to support research that had the potential to make a difference to the lives of people who have a significant disability as a consequence of a catastrophic injury, as well as those living with asbestos-related diseases and occupation-caused cancers.

“It is important for us to continue to support our clients – whether they have a spinal cord injury or mesothelioma - and the health care professionals who are helping to improve their lives.

“We want to assist our clients not only with their legal claims, but also by supporting medical research and projects that can improve their quality of life.”

The fund also supports education initiatives and information sharing projects amongst medical and other health professionals.

Applications for grants of between $2000 and $25,000 will be distributed as part of a $2m philanthropic program in Australia and the UK.