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Funds needed to stem spinal woes

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MELBOURNE is to host possibly the world’s first human trial to help cure long-term spinal injuries.

But researchers must first raise $5 million.

They hope the trial will help begin to restore bladder, bowel and sexual function, which are the first and most important steps for spinal-cord patients.

Eventually, researchers say, all such patients will walk again.

The project is being co-ordinated by StepAhead Australia, which is run by orthopaedic surgeon George Owen and his wife, Barbara, whose son Sam, 28, became a quadriplegic at 14 in a diving accident.

They have forged a worldwide network of researchers including Canadian stem-cell expert Dr Brent Reynolds, who works at the University of Florida and is StepAhead’s program director.

Dr Reynolds said researchers were working on stem-cell therapy approaches for spinal-cord injury in animals, and several were doing human trials.

Most of the trials focus on recently injured people, while Melbourne’s would be one of the first using chronic patients.

If funding were secured it could start within a couple of years, after additional testing on rodents.

Dr Reynolds said spinal-cord injury was an engineering problem, albeit a difficult one, and as such curable. Stem-cell researchers are working towards reconnecting nerves severed in accidents and repairing damaged tissue.

StepAhead is taking bookings for its fundraising Race Day at Flemington on Turnbull Stakes Day, October 3.

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