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Races help local spinal cord research

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More than 200 people heard about work with adult stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease and innovative Physical Therapy to restore function and feeling to paralyzed limbs at a kickoff dinner and fundraiser on Oct. 10, as part of the fifth annual Oceano Dunes Beach Race and Festival (see related story).

The festival is a three-day event to raise money for two area nonprofit foundations: SCI Research Advancement, a Santa Ynez Valley foundation dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, and The Clayton Memorial Foundation in San Luis Obispo, which helps injured motorcycle riders.

Friday night guests at the Pismo Beach State Golf Course were treated to a cocktail hour, a classic motorcycle show with guest judging, dinner, a silent auction and raffle, and a program of speakers that included Dr. Michel Levesque and Eric Harness.

Levesque, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and founder of the biotech company Neurogeneration, gave a presentation on his work with adult stem in treating Parkinson’s disease. He demonstrated his approach to reversing the tremors caused by dopamine-secreting cells that are destroyed by Parkinson’s, and how these cells could be replaced with adult stem cells.

“After several years of research conducted by Dr. Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, we are now ready to combine the neurosurgical techniques developed by Dr. Levesque and the Rehabilitation program at Project Walk, to give paralyzed people a real chance at walking again,” said Will Ambler, president of SCI Research Advancement.

“All the pieces are in place,” he added. “We are only lacking one final portion of this puzzle — the funding. Our goal is to raise enough money to start a pilot program of six to eight patients. This way we can test a small number of people to see if we can show the treatment is both safe and effective. With $3 million, we can conduct our pilot program and hopefully begin the process of getting people to walk away from their wheelchairs.

“SCI Research Advancement has a simple mission — to fund research that will improve the lives of thousands,” he added.

Also during the event, Eric Harness, director of research at Project Walk, described some novel and innovative physical rehabilitation being conducted there.

In his video presentation, Harness showed how, through intensive specialized therapy, people who were once unable to move could regain some ability to move and feel.

To learn more about spinal cord injury research or help raise funds to sponsor the adult stem cell treatment, visit or call Ambler at 688-6056.

By Pamela Dozois/Staff Writer

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