SMSR commits over £200,000 to three projects designed to improve the lives of those living with SCI

We are delighted to announce that we are today (5th October 2020) committing over £200,000 to three research projects which we believe will improve the quality of life of people living with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), giving them greater independence, and allowing them to engage more freely in work, hobbies and family life.

Commenting on the funding announcement, SMSR Trustee Chair, Richard Tolkien, said: “We are delighted to fund this important research, which aims to prevent and treat debilitating complications of spinal cord injury. We hope it will make a big difference to improving the everyday lives of people living with SCI."

He added: “The awards emerged from the first round of calls in SMSR’s recently established grants programme, and are awarded following rigorous peer review by our Scientific Advisory Board. This programme marks a big step in our approach towards developing research that leads the way in SCI and that has the potential to lead to brand new treatments and therapies for those many people and their families living with SCI day-to-day.”

The three projects are outlined below, together with videos from our launch webinar.

1. Cingulotomy for refractory neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury (CRNP-SCI) - Led by St Georges Hospital NHS Trust

The first project is a pioneering new study into central neuropathic pain (CNP) in people with spinal cord injury (SCI), a debilitating condition which affects approximately half of people with SCI, and to date has no cure. The funding is provided by SMSR and the charity Spinal Research. 

People with neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury often describe it as worse than the injury itself. CNP persistently interferes with day-to-day living, affecting peoples’ sleep, mental health and wellbeing, as well as their ability to work, study or maintain any kind of social or family life. Once it develops it remains for life, and often does not respond to treatment, hence the need to find therapeutic options for people living with this condition.

Led by St George's Hospital London, and involving the NSIC Stoke Mandeville, and the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre Stanmore, researchers will embark on a three-year project to explore the effectiveness of a procedure called cingulotomy, a minimally invasive surgical intervention that is able to locate and target a specific region of the brain with pinpoint accuracy, to help hinder overactive nerve pathways which regulate chronic pain in SCI individuals.

Commenting on being awarded funding for the project, Mr Erlick Pereira, Consultant Neurosurgeon at St George's University Hospital and lead researcher for the project, said: “Neuropathic pain is very common following spinal cord injury, with significant long-term impact on an individual’s quality of life, functional ability and mental health, as well as increased utilisation of health care resources. For some patients, this condition is resistant to existing treatments for CNP and has a devastating effect on their lives and the lives of their families. We are grateful to Spinal Research and Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research for the pledge to fund this project over the next three years, and hope that the research will identify cingulotomy as a safe and effective option for patients and provide them with relief.”

2. Feasibility study of Intra-vesical Gentamicin in the Prevention of Recurrent UTIs in People with SCI (FIGS) - Led by the London Spinal Injury Centre, Stanmore

The second study seeks to help people living with spinal cord injury (SCI) who are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) by enabling them to self-administer treatment at home.

Thanks to funding from SMSR, researchers from Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, London, will study people with spinal cord injury who will administer antibiotic treatment in the comfort of their own home by instilling a solution via bladder catheters. The aim is to prevent the onset of urinary tract infections and help to minimise the risk of antibiotic resistance. Avoiding the morbidity of UTIs will enable SCI people to continue to work, study, and maintain a good social and family life. 

Commenting on the project, lead researcher Dr Sarah Knight, said: “We are very excited to be starting our Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research funded project. Urinary tract infections are a major factor in reducing the quality of life for people living with spinal cord injury. We hope that bladder instillation of the antibiotic gentamicin will prevent recurrent infections without the need for oral antibiotics and their associated side effects.”

3. Electroencephalograph predictors of central neuropathic pain in subacute spinal cord injury - Led by the University of Glasgow

The third study will use electroencephalograph (EEG) prediction techniques to determine whether a newly injured person with spinal cord injury (SCI) is likely to go on to suffer from central neuropathic pain (CNP). The project is also jointly funded by SMSR and the charity Spinal Research. 

Led by the University of Glasgow, and involving patients at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC), Stoke Mandeville, and the National Spinal Injuries Unit (NSIU), Glasgow, this two-year collaborative study hopes to be able to identify those patients who will go on to develop chronic neuropathic pain in the future and facilitate the development of preventative treatment as a result. 

The study will focus on how brain activity related to CNP in people with SCI develops over time and will use EEG to measure this activity as early as possible following their injury, before they start to develop neuropathic pain, which is believed to be a consequence of a gradual build-up of hyperexcitability in the nerves, eventually leading to this debilitating condition. 

Lead researcher at the University of Glasgow, Dr Aleksandra Vuckovic, said: “Neuropathic pain is extremely hard to treat. We propose to define predictive markers of central neuropathic pain (CNP) based on related brain activity accurately measured by electroencephalograph (EEG). Early EEG markers of pain will be used to create a machine learning system used to identify the risks to each newly injured patient enabling us to recommend effective preventive treatment. We will record EEG in more than 60 people across two spinal units in Scotland and England early after their spinal cord injuries and analyse brain activity of those who have and have not developed pain within the first six months. With this data, we create a 'machine learning algorithm' able to predict the risks of any patient in the future developing CNP. This will provide clinicians with the ability to better prescribe preventive treatments.”

More information

For more information on the projects or any of SMSR's work, please contact Derek Cutler, Research Grants Manager [email protected]