'Exciting' spinal research could save billions
Research into new methods of treating spinal injuries could save the UK billions of pounds, according to experts.
At a reception in the House of Commons Jonathan Miall, chief executive of the charity Spinal Research, said that the cost of treating injuries, estimated at £1bn annually, is going to increase.
At the same time innovative research is not being supported properly. Mr Miall said the UK's reputation as a centre for "excellence in neuroscience research" could be compromised.
"Good science will go overseas," he told an audience of MPs, peers and scientists.
He called for better integration and networks between clinical centres of excellence and said spinal injuries miss out. On the one hand they are "too small" for big pharmaceutical companies and governments to invest in research, but seen as "too big" to access funds set aside for rare diseases.
Dr Adina Michael-Titus from Queen Mary at the University of London spoke about her exciting research into poli-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
She said the "unspoken truth" of spinal injuries is that in the aftermath of a trauma a "silent wildfire continues to destroy spinal cord".
"It is very important to be fast if you want to protect the spinal cord," she said.
Dr Michael-Titus told the audience about her work on PUFA, which can be applied immediately after a spinal injury to limit damage to the spine. She said that further research should focus on concentrating and stabilising fatty acids for use in A&E settings.
Dr Mark Bacon, director of research at Spinal Research, said that the focus should be on developing treatments that will restore function, but at present spinal injuries do not fit any of the research models favoured by government through the National Institute for Health categories.
Despite the cost to the NHS, it is paradoxically "not of commercial interest".
He said a combination of cell and gene research should be developed alongside other interventions including surgery and rehabilitation. Dr Bacon said that collaboration is needed with knowledge sharing and information management.
"Research cannot be an afterthought," he said.
Ian Lucas MP, chair of the APPG on spinal cord injury, hosted the event. He said that while spinal injuries have a profound effect on the families of those who suffer from them, politicians do not sufficiently understand the "extraordinary ability to recover" shown by some individuals. He said the event would serve to improve knowledge of spinal injury research among parliamentarians.