$1M funding for the Neurotrauma Research Program (NRP)

The Neurotrauma Research Program (NRP) has received $1 million of State Government funding to investigate mechanisms of nerve damage and develop treatments for recovery from catastrophic injuries such as spinal cord injury (SCI) and traumatic brain injury.


Approximately 50 people a year in WA sustain a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis, twice the national average. Healthcare costs for SCI in Australia are estimated at $2 billion every year.

Professor Bryant Stokes, Chair of the NRP Executive Committee, said that significant advances have been made in understanding the mechanisms of nerve damage, and the translation of basic research to clinical trials is now benefiting patients in Western Australia.

An NRP funded project headed by Professor Sarah Dunlop is part of a 7 year national clinical trial to look at the possible benefits of hypothermia treatment (cooling) for people with traumatic spinal cord injury.

SCI causes direct damage to the spinal cord at the time of injury, but secondary damage to the tissue continues due to swelling and other biochemical events. The sooner decompression surgery is performed the better the outcome for the patient, but distance to trauma centres for patients in remote and rural locations means longer times until surgery.

There is some clinical evidence that cooling of the patient may ‘buy time’ by reducing the rate of damage to the spinal cord. This 7 year clinical trial will determine whether carefully controlled cooling of suitable patients can improve outcomes for people with SCI.

Craig Parsons is a quadriplegic who sustained a spinal cord injury while competing in a motocross event in Southern Cross. Craig was transported by ambulance to Southern Cross hospital, then Royal Flying Doctor service to Jandakot, followed by an additional ambulance trip to Royal Perth Hospital for specialised emergency care. Craig is now completely paralysed below the shoulders, and is reliant on a wheelchair for mobility. If this trial is successful, acute treatment in cases like Craig’s may reduce the amount of damage and degree of paralysis that occurs.

It is a measure of the high standard of research supported by NRP that the first stage of this research has been awarded the 2016 Spinal Research Award at the Annual Meeting of the Spine Society of Australia.

The support of NRP by the State Government will allow projects such as this to continue, and will make it possible for Western Australia to retain its position at the forefront of this exciting and rapidly progressing sphere of science and technology.

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