Novel Approaches To Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Earn Researchers $700,000 In Prizes

Inaugural Conquer Paralysis Now Challenge to Potentially Award $20 million Over the Next Decade

Sep 15, 2015, 08:00 ET from Conquer Paralysis Now

PRINCETON, N.J., Sept. 15, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- In time to mark Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month this September, Conquer Paralysis Now (CPN), a leading authority on spinal cord injury (SCI) research and treatment, is pleased to announce the winners of Stage I, Round I of its inaugural Conquer Paralysis Now Challenge.  With many novel ideas never getting off the ground due to a lack of initial data needed to win traditional research grants, CPN is awarding 10 individuals with $50,000 each, and two teams $100,000 each for their unconventional, disruptive approaches. 

The CPN Challenge was launched to find a cure for paralysis by driving the development of treatments for spinal cord injuries to help patients regain such everyday functions as standing, reaching and grasping, and bowel and bladder control. 

CPN selected this round's grant recipients from a pool of 100 applicants, representing 80 institutions and more than 25 countries. CPN recognized a host of novel approaches to SCI treatment, including:

  • A study by Alexander Rabchevsky of the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center, University of Kentucky, in which healthy mitochondria are directly injected into the site of a severe contusion spinal cord injury. Mitochondria are key organelles that dictate a cell's fate to either survive or die after injury, thus presenting researchers a crucial opportunity to uncover ways to restore cell function at this key, fundamental subcellular level. While there has been success with mitochondrial transplants for cardiac-and pulmonary-related injuries, this approach has not been tried for spinal cord injuries.
  • Queen's University (Canada) researcher Nader Ghasemlou's study to help facilitate the development of new therapeutic targets to treat and potentially eliminate SCI pain. A common misconception about spinal cord injuries is that because patients can't feel or move their limbs, they can't feel pain. In fact, up to 80 percent of people with spinal cord injuries experience chronic pain. Not only does eliminating pain mean securing a better quality of life for SCI patients, it also reduces the need for pain medicines, like opiates, which have unappealing side effects and present a high risk of abuse. This study uses a bedside-to-bench approach to study SCI pain from a genomics, proteomics and behavioral perspective. If successful, these methods could prove groundbreaking for the treatment of a variety of inflammatory-related pain issues.

Grants were awarded in the following six categories, as follows:

  • New Investigator Award - Honors newly hired researchers that began their career in SCI research after their graduate studies or established researchers who recently switched to the SCI field.  Recipients:  Nader Ghasemlou (Queen's University in Ontario, Canada) and Tatiana Bezdudnaya (Drexel University)
  • The Lone Star Foundation Collaboration Award – Funds inter-disciplinary collaborations, with at least two labs in two different fields collaborating on the project. Recipients:  Warren Alilain (MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine) and Anna Leonard (The University of Alabama at Birmingham & The University of Adelaide)
  • Michael Fux Foundation Reaching & Grasping Award – Recognizes projects that drive progress towards restoring reaching and grasping function for human SCI patients. Recipients: Volker Dietz (Spinal Cord Injury Center) and Keith Fenrich and Karim Fouad (University of Alberta)
  •  Cross Over Award – Incentivizes the cross-over of adjacent neurological research to the field of SCI.  Recipients: Candace Floyd (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and Ela Plow (Cleveland Clinic)
  • Translation Award – Awards projects that aim to translate research from animal experiments toward human clinical trials. Recipients:  John Simeral (Brown University, Department of Veterans Affairs and Massachusetts General Hospital) and Charles Tator (University of Toronto and Krembil Discovery Center)
  • Out of the Box – Provides initial funding for high-risk, high-potential research ideas. Recipients: Raymond Grill (University of Mississippi Medical Center) and Alexander Rabchevsky (Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center University of Kentucky)

"CPN is motivated by the singular goal of finding a cure for paralysis, that is restoring important functions for those living with SCI," said Ida Cahill, president and chief executive officer of Conquer Paralysis Now. "We believe we can meet this objective, within the next decade, through the innovative concepts and research fostered by the CPN Challenge."

The CPN Challenge program, developed in conjunction with a world-renowned team of researchers and scientists and divided into three stages of increasing difficulty, plans to potentially award nearly $20 million dollars in grants and prizes over the next 10 years. The first team that can reach unprecedented improvement in every day functions of people living with chronic SCI (as defined by the CPN Challenge guidelines) will win the $10 million Grand Prize.

Stage II will serve as a "stepping stone" between the initial research of Stage I and the robust demonstration of functional recovery in Stage III. It will set significant milestone prizes for translating basic science into animal and human application. A total of four prizes will be awarded, two prizes of $500,000 in the animal category and two prizes of $500,000 in the human category. Finally, the first individual or consortium to show functional recovery in at least two functions of SCI patients within 10 years will receive the $10 million prize in Stage III. 

"The current climate is such that researchers are often unlikely to get funding unless their idea shows great promise and precedent. Researchers, as a result, often take a more conservative approach to their work," said Hunter Peckham, scientific advisor to Conquer Paralysis Now and Donnell Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedics, Institute for Functional Restoration at Case Western Reserve University. "CPN is transforming the funding landscape and encouraging researchers to take risks, helping us accelerate progress toward finding a cure."

Together with the money, the CPN Challenge will also provide grant recipients access to relevant human capital as a valuable way of making the most effective use of their received funding. The mentorship program will focus on key areas, including the FDA regulatory process, translation of ideas, manufacturing and technology.

CPN has also announced a "Trial & Error Prize" as part of the Challenge, incentivizing scientists from around the world to share both their successes and failures. The goal of this platform is to foster the publication of research in an easily accessible format, providing a forum to facilitate improved information-sharing and collaboration. With researchers openly sharing failures, the risk of duplicating unsuccessful efforts will be diminished, driving progress in SCI treatment even faster. CPN has announced the first winner of the Sci Fi Group Trial & Error Prize. Vance Lemmon was awarded the grant for his paper outlining proposed reporting standards for spinal cord injury experiments.

For more information about Conquer Paralysis Now, the grant recipients' research, or to submit a research proposal, visit

About Conquer Paralysis Now

Conquer Paralysis Now is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to cure paralysis. The organization is leading the charge for a cure through funding scientific research, medical treatment and technological advances benefiting those paralyzed by spinal cord injuries, stroke or diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's or in other ways. For more information, visit

Contact: Jade Moore
(212) 931-6190

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