Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility

Host institution The University of Auckland
Research location Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility (SCIRF)
Director Dr Simon O’Carroll
Technical Manager Barbara Fackelmeier
Funding amount $167,107
Funding term 1 August 2018 – 31 July 2020

This funding covers costs of a Technical Manager to manage the day-to-day running of the Facility and provide expert technical support and training for animal care, processing and data analysis; the use of high-containment amenities in which the technical team carry out experiments in a controlled environment; and a Student induction programme to introduce undergraduate biomedical science and medical students to the fields of SCI research.

The use of gene therapy in combination with enriched cell transplantation in a chronic model of SCI.

Host institution The University of Auckland
Research location Centre for Brain Research
Lead investigators Dr Simon O’Carroll and Mr Connor Clemett
Funding amount $114,777
Funding term 20 February 2019 – 30 November 2021

Repair of the damaged cord with stem cell implants is an exciting therapeutic development but its potential is currently limited by the formation of scar tissue within the injury. The Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility (SCIRF) lab, here in Auckland, New Zealand, has recently developed a method to express a “scar busting” enzyme within the injured cord which along with exercise rehabilitation leads to improved outcomes. The aim is to combine the gene therapy approach with the addition of stem cells to promote recovery.

PhD student, Connor Clemett, has started a project to combine this approach with cell therapy. Connor will inject cells into the injured cord that wrap around the nerve cells and improve the connection with other cells. This approach aims to make the new connections that occur stronger, leading to even better outcomes. In future we hope to use a new technology where we can grow these cells from an injured persons skin cells and, by using their own cells, increase the chance that such an approach will be succesful.

Joint funding partnership – Health Research Council and The CatWalk Trust

Host institution The University of Auckland
Research location Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility (SCIRF)
Funding Recipient Associate Professor Darren Svirskis
Funding amount $476,190
Funding term 2019-2021

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating, and currently incurable, disease and has a profound impact on an individual’s quality of life. An estimated 27 million people suffer from SCI globally, due either to trauma or as a result of disease, with a lifetime cost per person as high as $10 million. This project will investigate an innovative new treatment combining both beneficial electrical fields and nerve growth factors to regenerate damaged nerves following SCI. We will first determine the best combination of treatment parameters in vitro before delivering them through our bioelectronic implant to an animal model. In our animal model of SCI we seek to demonstrate that damaged nerves can be regenerated and functional recovery achieved. This transformative technology has the potential to boost the body’s innate ability to heal itself, and would deliver both health and economic benefits to New Zealand.

Generating human oligodendrocyte precursor cells from adult human dermal fibroblasts for the treatment of spinal cord injury.

Host institution The University of Auckland
Research locations Department Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology /Centre for Brain Research
Post‐Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Amy McCaughey‐Chapman
Supervisor Prof. Bronwen Connor
Funding amount $186,842
Funding term 2020 – 2022

Oligodendrocytes are cells in the central nervous system that produce a protective, insulating layer called myelin which allows electrical impulses to propagate quickly and efficiently between neurons.

Disruption to myelin is involved in devastating spinal cord injuries (SCI), for which treatments are limited. This study will investigate whether human oligodendrocytes can be generated from human skin cells for applications in modelling, drug screening and cell transplantation to promote remyelination following spinal cord injury.