In 2013, PCSRF committed to a 3 year $150,000 research project under the supervision of Associate Professor James St John and Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim (2017 Australian of the Year). The project was completed in 2017.
The funded project has determined the effectiveness of a highly promising treatment for reducing paralysis after spinal cord injury. Micropumps are used to deliver tiny amounts of two different growth factors, VEGF and PDGF, close to the injury site in a rat spinal injury model. This combination of growth factors dramatically reduces the inflammatory response and scarring that normally occurs after spinal cord injury. Remarkably, this reduction in the secondary degeneration results in considerable recovery in motor function.
The conclusion of the study is that the growth factors affect how the cells of the spinal cord react to the injury. Normally the response of the cells is to invade the injury site and to form a scar, but with the growth factor treatment the cells are not activated as much and they do not migrate as fast into the injury site. The result is that the nerve cells are better able to recover and the paralysis is reduced. We now need to better understand how the growth factors affect the different cells so that we can make the application more precise and therefore more effective.