$1 million to fund first 12 patient treatments

Published: November 19, 2008  |  Source: scoop.co.nz
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New Zealand to join spinal cord repair effort

New Zealand has 5000 people in wheelchairs – one of the highest per capita ratios in the developed World

Advances towards breakthrough treatments for spinal cord injuries has encouraged the start of a fundraising initiative in New Zealand.

“We Will Walk Again,” will be a special arm of the Spinal Cord Society of New Zealand to focus on raising money so New Zealanders in wheelchairs can take part in trials of experimental (or novel) treatments from local medical specialists.

Noela Vallis, the founder and President of the Spinal Cord Society of New Zealand, said there is a growing medical body throughout the World which believes that medical treatment to produce repair of paralysis and loss of feeling after spinal cord injury is now close.

“Complete repair may not yet be possible but real and worthwhile improvement is what we initially are aiming for.

“Some human trials have now been carried out overseas and encouraging results have already been achieved,” she said.

“I have been getting more and more inquiries from people to start some kind of effort so that we can join in the excellent advancements being made overseas. Many of these comments come from people who are confined to wheelchairs.”

There are just over 5,000 New Zealanders confined to wheelchairs, which is about double the per-capita ratio of other developed countries. Car accidents, followed by sporting accidents, are the major causes in New Zealand.

“We have the highest rate of spinal cord injuries in the Western World. We should be at the forefront of developing this medical treatment, given the numbers of our citizens who are in wheelchairs,” said Mrs Vallis. “So we are going to make sure it happens.”

Mrs Vallis said there are formalities to go through before New Zealand-based medical people can begin research trials of treatment on patients in New Zealand. At present some wheelchair patients are also travelling overseas to gain access to experimental treatments.

“We would like these local doctors to be able to use their knowledge for the benefit of New Zealanders in wheelchairs.”

Mr Vallis said many wheelchair-bound New Zealanders are frustrated that they have to look overseas for experimental treatments.

“Fully able New Zealanders tend to regard people in wheelchairs as having some other disabilities in their sense of judgement. In fact, most wheelchair –bound people are deeply thoughtful about the World and many will concede that their spinal injury has given them new intellectual and emotional strengths.

“Wheelchair people are seeking the right to decide for themselves about taking part in research trials and they would like to access them locally. They want progress to develop treatments.

“There is no shortage of volunteers to participate in the research trials of treatments. Some have already gone overseas out of a sense of frustration that they can’t access it here. They also know that New Zealand doctors are talking with overseas specialists. They know the knowledge is right here in New Zealand.”

Mrs Vallis said “We Will Walk Again” will have its own dedicated committee to develop a major fund raising plan which will carry on for several years.

The society raises about $300,000 annually to run its research lab but the target is to raise an extra $1 million to start trial treatments on 12 wheelchair patients (see following article which gives detail).

Ethics Committee decision

The Ministry of Health’s Ethics Committee yesterday, considered and approved an application by the Spinal Cord Society, to open the way for the first trial of research on spinal cord injury repair to start locally.

“There are thousands of New Zealanders waiting for this approval so they can have access in the future to medical skills among local doctors,” said Mrs Vallis

“Thousands of New Zealanders are very pleased about this decision.”