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Grant to support spinal cord injury research

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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 9 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 those with upper limb peripheral nerve injury and healthy controls.”

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 with 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.

“As a leading personal injury law firm, we think it is important for us to support the research work of health care professionals."

“Their research and projects can make a real difference to the lives of injured people,” Ms Gregory said.

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

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