A crucial Griffith University research program focusing on digitally-enabled rehabilitation technology for spinal cord injury (SCI) has received a $3.8 million funding boost courtesy of the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC).

Dr Claudio Pizzolato from the School of Health Sciences and Social Work (SHS) and the Griffith Centre for Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering (GCORE), with Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Dinesh Palipana and their team will use the funding to further develop the BioSpine research program which aims to help people with an SCI regain some of their motor and sensory function.

Dr Pizzolato said BioSpine combines the effect of multiple rehabilitation technologies and drug therapy, with the next step involving testing the intervention on volunteers.

“Essentially, it will enable the team to get BioSpine ready for commercialisation,” Dr Pizzolato said.

“We will also further develop non-invasive technologies to boost neural recovery after a spinal cord injury which we can hopefully introduce into a clinic setting so people can access these life-changing methods outside of the university.”

Approximately 20,800 Australians are living with SCI and 350-400 people sustain a new SCI each year.

Of these injuries 80 per cent are due to traumatic injury and just under half are from motor vehicle accidents.

A clinical study is currently underway assessing the long-term effects of BioSpine’s new type of rehabilitation following a sustained intervention on motor sensory function of people with SCI.

Dr Palipana said the next stage of the BioSpine project would look at integrating the next level of electrical stimulation of the spine.

“We have expert talent at Griffith with new talent soon to arrive to develop this area as it’s one of the interventions that has shown the most promise for restoring function in people with an SCI,” Dr Palipana said.

“It’s during this phase that we hope to generate some more exciting results for people with paralysis, and if we can help improve someone’s quality of life, then that is a huge achievement.”

Insurance Commissioner Neil Singleton said MAIC’s continued support for the Biospine team reflected the promising outcomes of Biospine 1.0, which MAIC has supported over the last three years.

“Biospine 2.0 is an opportunity to both accelerate and validate these different technologies and approaches, bringing them a step closer to being introduced to those with spinal cord injuries,” Mr Singleton said.

“Spinal cord injuries represent a significant cost to Queensland motorists as well as the Queensland healthcare system.

“Incremental improvements in sensation and motor skills will be a major step in increasing both independence and quality of life while reducing both scheme and health care costs.”

In collaboration with Senior Lecturer Tim Marsh from Griffith Film School (Creative Arts Research Institute-CARI) and industry partners Myriads Studios, he said: “We’ll further explore the integration of BioSpine BCI technologies with immersive, spatial and virtual worlds, enabling participants to play games, compete in sports, wander/explore environments and worlds, and dance, act, and perform.”

Queensland’s Health Minister Shannon Fentiman said the additional funding was being put towards an important purpose.

“The entire team at Griffith, including Dr Pizzolato and Dr Palipana, are doing incredible work through the BioSpine research program,” Minister Fentiman said.

“This ground-breaking work has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people living with spinal cord injuries, and we are all so grateful for what they are doing.

Multi-million dollar funding boost for BioSpine
Dr Claudio Pizzolato

Dr Claudio Pizzolato

Dr Dinesh Palipana

Dr Dinesh Palipana

“It goes hand-in-hand with the Queensland Government’s recent announcement of $5 million to begin delivering a new state-of-the-art spinal injuries unit in Queensland.”

BioSpine is a cross disciplinary project across Griffith including GCORE, Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT), SHS, School of Engineering and Built Environment, and Griffith Film School.

External collaborators include Prof Yang D Teng, from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard-Australia fellow, the Gold Coast University Hospital, and Gold Coast industry partner Myriad Studios.