In the fifth Wings for Life World Run on May 6, 2018, hundreds of thousand will come together to raise money for the Wings for Life foundation in its hunt for a cure for spinal cord injury.
Absolutely. One day, there will be a cure. But the path is difficult, filled with dead ends and obstacles.
Obstacle 1: We know a lot, but not enough
In the early 1980s, scientists proved nerve cells in the spinal cord can grow under the right conditions. After years of intense research, scientists now need to understand more about the biological mechanisms of spinal cord injury before trying to develop a cure.
Obstacle 2: Spinal cord injuries are complex
When the highly complex spinal cord is injured, a chain reaction of malign events triggers within the body. With the initial trauma comes hemorrhaging and inflammation and cells die rapidly and erratically. In the second phase, even more cells die, taking with them tissue surrounding the injury. So, the body itself makes the injury worse. During the final phase, the damaged area seals with a complex scar.
Obstacle 3: Research is expensive
According to the World Health Organization, each year ‘only’ 250,000 to 500,000 sustain a spinal cord injury – relatively few when widespread diseases affect millions and attract vast medical funding. Spinal cord research lacks investment it desperately needs to entice new research talent into the field and find a cure.
Obstacle 4: The Valley of Death looms
The biggest obstacle is ‘translation:’ The hurdles every medication or therapy must clear before its use on patients. From reproducing the entire study to developing highly complicated protocols for clinical trials and identifying how best to administer the drug or treatment, the processes are long and complicated. Scientists have even named the process the Valley of Death.
Wings for Life has helped overcome obstacles and forge progress. Now that researchers can decipher many of Obstacle 1’s complex processes triggered by spinal cord injury, they can focus on finding and, in some cases, testing therapeutic applications.
With Wings for Life World Runners’ support, Wings for Life has handpicked the most promising spinal cord research projects to invest in, initiatives that improve collaboration and unify scientific standards. We finance data-analysis projects and organize scientific conferences where researchers share their findings – positive and negative – so others avoid wasting money and energy on dead-end projects.
And to overcome the Valley of Death, Wings for Life launched the Accelerated Translational Programme (ATP) in 2016 to move more medical discoveries into therapeutic treatments.
“So when will there be a cure?” We can’t answer that question yet. But we’re working on it.