The Search for a Cure

I was injured playing Rugby in Brisbane at the age of 19 and spent the next 8 months in the Princess Alexandra Hospital Spinal Unit. With a very high level spinal injury, I couldn’t eat, drink, speak, breathe, feel or move, all I could do was see and hear. My only means of communication was to blink for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and some frustrating lip reading, my predicament was pretty bad to say the least.

For some reason that I can’t explain, I have been able to survive, overcome the inability to eat, drink and speak, and make the most out of that ‘bad’ situation. After all, my life expectancy in the days after my injury was just a matter of months, and when I passed that milestone the experts gave me 10 years at best! Superman actor Christopher Reeve, had access to the best health care facilities in the world and lived nine years post injury.

There are however two moments that maybe have something to do with my longevity that vividly standout. The first was a heartfelt conversation I had with my mum, Shirley, about eight weeks after the injury. I was understandably in a very bad place mentally and Shirl and I had a deep conversation about ’switching off’ my life support, not that she would ever do such a thing, but the conversation was the moment I realised how precious life is and if I were going to live I had to make the most of what I had. Remember, there is always somebody in a worse situation then you.

This other time, maybe two years down the track, I was still riding a crazy roller coaster of emotions and decided I would simply not get out of bed, in other words spend the day watching TV. Shirl on the other hand had different ideas, not so politely insisting that I get up, which made me realise I couldn’t be a burden on the people around me. Needless to say, I didn’t do it again. Where would we be without our Mums?

Jump forward to today, and I am the Founder of the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation (PCSRF) with the mission to cure paralysis for all. My passion for this came about as a result of a meeting with Reeve in New York soon after he was injured in a horse riding accident. Reeve was adamant paralysis would be cured, we simply needed funding for science to find the answer. Sadly, Reeve passed away in 2004 and his death was the spark for me to focus on a cure. We had lost our international spokesman, so people needed to step up.

PCSRF recognise that finding a cure for paralysis is an international challenge that can only be solved when this global community come together, and therefore works to unite world-wide research centres, advocates, specialists, not for profit organisations, service providers and leading medical specialists on our common cause to collaborate to find a cure.

Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation has a unique and important strategic focus on uniting effort as well as facilitating ground breaking research that would not otherwise help us get closer to the answers, closer to a cure. The organisation funds critical research that improves through-life support and achieves the best health and lifestyle outcomes to people throughout the world affected by paralysis to regain movement and control of their lives. PCSRF also works tirelessly promoting prevention and awareness messages to the wider community.

Following initial support of Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute’s research and knowing the capacity and track record of its people and their work, the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation has the confidence to back their world class and ground-breaking project in "Olfactory Cell Transplantation to Repair Spinal Cord". PCSRF is currently supporting this exciting research project.

This exciting project involves taking a special type of cell from a patient’s olfactory (sense of smell) system and transplanting it into the spinal cord injury site.

A world first Phase I clinical trial led by scientists at the Eskitis Institute, Griffith University, in 2002 demonstrated that the therapy is safe for use in humans. That trial led to a recent human trial by British/Polish researchers that demonstrated that restoration of function after severing of the human spinal cord is indeed possible. In this study, a mix of olfactory ensheathing cells and fibroblasts together with a nerve bridge were transplanted into the injured spinal cord. Within 6-12 months after transplantation, the patient, who had been paralysed for several years prior to the treatment, regained some motor function of his legs, bladder control, and sensation.

These exciting proof-of-principle results give hope that patients may regain function after spinal cord injury. What is now needed is to improve the transplantation therapy to make it more effective. In partnership with the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation, the team at Griffith University is planning to undertake a clinical trial in 2020 to progress this journey and show that this therapy can further regenerate patients’ sensory and motor function. Exciting times ahead for everybody.

Everything is possible!

Perry Cross.

Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation

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