Rugby legend calls for support of new stimulation treatments

The lives of 60,000 people in the UK and more than 2.5 million worldwide who have been left paralysed by spinal cord injuries (SCI) could be about to benefit from a new treatment method which has the potential to deliver multiple health benefits.

A number of ongoing ‘neuromodulation’ pilots in the UK which employ electrical stimulation to ‘re-tune’ the spinal cord to receive signals from the brain have shown promising early results. These pilots use a spinal simulation technology which has already shown to improve movement, sensation and other critical functions in trials at home and abroad.

These neuromodulation pilots are funded by Spinal Research, but with fundraising severely disrupted by the pandemic, the charity is now looking to make up for lost time by raising £500,000 to build on the outcomes of these pilot projects. These funds will be used to prepare the UK for the application of this life changing technology into meaningful treatments.

Spinal Research’s Patron, Rugby World Cup Winner and current chairman of the British & Irish Lions Jason Leonard OBE, is now calling for a concerted fundraising drive from the rugby community to support this development and rollout.

Someone sustains a spinal cord injury every four hours in the UK. Despite recent rule changes, as a contact sport rugby still has a prevalence of such injuries. Unfortunately a high percentage of these are cervical (neck) injuries, which can lead to paralysis in all four limbs and a lifetime of complex health problems.

Funding Pivotal Research

English rugby’s most capped player, Jason Leonard commented: “Spinal Research is funding ground-breaking pilot projects that have the potential to deliver meaningful treatments for those injured whilst playing rugby, as well as the wider SCI community. Sadly, like so many charities impacted financially recently, the biggest barrier to progress is funding."

“Crucial funds are now needed to raise monies for this ground-breaking work.”

On 22nd November, the anniversary of England’s Rugby World Cup win, Jason and Spinal Research will officially launch the Tackling Paralysis campaign – a two-year fundraising initiative for players and fans at all levels of amateur and professional rugby, running up to the 20th anniversary of England’s historic drop-goal victory over Australia.

Rugby clubs, players and supporters across the UK are urged to host a range of activities to raise funds for Spinal research and its trials. Fundraising ideas guidance and resources are available from the dedicated website.

Get Involved

Players of all abilities are especially encouraged to take part in the DropKickChallenge – sharing videos of their most creative drop-goal attempts on social media alongside an optional donation, for the chance to be recognised and reshared by a professional rugby player or team.

Funds raised via Tackling Paralysis will go towards helping people like Max Levene to regain functions lost through a spinal cord injury. Aged just 17, Max was injured playing rugby at school when he was pulled down awkwardly in the last play of the game.

Max remembers “As soon as I hit the ground I knew what had happened. It was like the lights had been switched off from the chest down-no pain, just nothingness.”

"My life changed playing the game I still love- it can happen on any rugby pitch, at any age and at any level. I know the rugby community looks after their own. Tackling Paralysis is a great way for the close-knit rugby community to drive new treatments forward together.”

"Paralysis used to be known as a life sentence, but by supporting the development of new treatments, we can tackle that idea into touch for good,” commented Max.

Research At Risk

Thanks to the efforts of its supporters, Spinal Research is currently funding a portfolio of 20 research projects, crucially eight of which are now being trialled in humans. The focus is to restore hand and arm function, improve incontinence and reduce debilitating nerve pain. Improvements in any of these areas will have a huge impact on everyday independence, spontaneity and quality-of-life for people living with paralysis.

Harvey Sihota, Chief Executive of Spinal Research, said: “Every four hours, someone in the UK is paralysed. Despite the fact that the field is chronically underfunded, scientists around the world have made remarkable progress in understanding the spinal cord and what it will take to restore it after injury.”

“We are determined to see these discoveries transferred to the wider community, transforming the lives of paralysed people, but we need funding to keep our pipeline of projects on track.”

To find out more about Spinal Research’s Tackling Paralysis campaign, or to get involved, visit