My favorite videos are from the Unite 2 Fight Paralysis (U2FP) Working 2 Walk Video Library. Thought provoking ideas are shared on these recordings, so I study them at home and continue to think a great deal about the science and research progress they reveal. One of the videos caught my attention tonight. It was Dr. Murray Blackmore of Marquette University, “The Hunt Continues: Therapeutic Gene Targets for SCI.”
I’m thinking about the potential impact of his discoveries for other scientists labs, clinicians and our community. Finding out which gene(s) controls the “kill switch” that stops regeneration cold when a spinal cord is injured and axons broken is critical research. The ability to confirm those hits using cutting edge CRISPR technology to move research along is impressive. He also looks on the other side of the engine to determine which gene will accelerate axon growth by utilizing optogenetics. Optogenetics was actually awarded Method of the Year in 2010 by Nature. Using these newer research techniques is like comparing an old walkie-talkie toy for communicating instead of the satellite communications and fiber optics of today.
These advanced methods help Dr. Blackmore efficiently find answers. As a result, superior therapies move to human clinical trials quicker and the number of therapies which fail early on in human trials are reduced, saving us precious time and funding. International Spinal Research Trust and U2FP were spot on with helping Dr. Blackmore launch down this pathway. It’s cutting edge, aggressive research with no holds barred. It’s about an aggressive young scientist willing to give it all he’s got.
I admire his out of the box thinking and utilization of a high throughput screening microscope which allows him to methodically sort through cell cultures and screening assays to locate that “kill switch” envisioned by advocates. Funding for his lab was accomplished under the watchful eye of the aggressive U2FP Advocate Research Committee (ARC) and U2FP Scientific Advisory Board, generously funded by SCIS. If we didn’t understand Dr. Blackmore’s concepts and use of optogenetics to help us observe functional regenerating fibers and cortical cell bodies before, we do now. His insights and passion for finding the answers stems partly from his own mother’s SCI. As advocates, we need to educate ourselves on the use of new discoveries, cutting edge tools and identify dedicated scientists willing to use them.
It was also refreshing to hear on the video a consumer delegate representing the Rick Hansen Institute and ICORD acknowledge the importance of collaborations and recognize that we as a consumer group need to be more involved in the research and work to identify promising discoveries. Our community can’t sit passively by expecting others to meander through the science and figure out its possibilities. We must seize it and own it ourselves.
I have to agree with Dr. Blackmore when he recommended not funding single lab projects. We shouldn’t be applying our efforts and funding to a lab that isn’t working in tandem with at least one or two other labs in a collaborative effort to push the field forward in critical areas. If our donations do not lead to publications in high impact peer reviewed SCI publications and Progress Reports are not provided, this is a red flag and additional oversight is needed. We must unite everyone and be willing to participate on the front lines, encouraging scientists to branch out and supporting those who do. As a community, we really do have the ability to impact SCI research with our donations and efforts.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead