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Spring Connections 2020

Welcome to the first online version of Connections!

Here you will find some of the key highlights taken from our bi-annual newsletter, such as an interview with our long time collaborator, Professor Liz Bradbury, as well as a brief Q&A with the latest trustee to join our board, Peter Benson. 

If you would like to receive a printed copy, please get in touch and we will endeavour to get one sent out to you as soon as possible.

Meet the Scientist

An interview with Professor Liz Bradbury


Professor Liz Bradbury is a neuroscientist at King's College London specialising in regenerative medicine, she has worked closely with Spinal Research for over 20 years. We sat down with her for a brief Q&A on her experience with Spinal Research.

How long have you been working with Spinal Research? Since the first Annual Spinal Research Network Meeting I attended in 1998 when I was a post-doctoral researcher. 

What led you to a career in neuroscience? I was fascinated with the nervous system and wanted to understand how nerve cells communicate from the body to the brain and then back out to our muscles to enable movement. Later life events made me understand first-hand the devastation of traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries and how they can change a person’s life.

What motives you in your work? Knowing that our research could change lives. What motivates me to continue pursuing this research is each small step forward is taking us closer to optimizing the regenerative gene therapy were currently working on.

Why do you think collaboration is so important in medical research? Because we are dealing with such a complex biological problem. I collaborate with many scientists across the world, all with different expertise so that we can tackle it from multiple angles and with multiple approaches. Thanks to organisations such as Spinal Research, this has become an extremely collaborative field.

How has Spinal Research benefited you and your research? One of my first grants as a new Group Leader was funded by Spinal Research. I have also benefited from their Natalie Rose Barr Studentship scheme for training young scientists. I have supervised 3 students through this scheme, who I believe will go on to make a real difference. Spinal Research have also been instrumental in establishing our collaborative international CHASE-IT Consortium (chondroitinase for injury therapy).

Bladder, Bowel and Sexual Function

How we're meeting patient priorities

A particularly devastating consequence of spinal cord injury is the loss of bladder, bowel and sexual function, which substantially impacts on the individual’s dignity, health and quality of life. Because many of the nerves that control bladder, bowel and sexual function are found towards the base of the spinal cord, both those with paraplegia and tetraplegia will be affected. From a clinical point of view, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction can be reasonably managed, but for the individual it remains extremely unsatisfactory and improving or restoring these functions is a high priority.

We have brought together a multidisciplinary network involving teams from leading academic centres in the UK, and internationally. They will study these functions in parallel as the neural circuits that modulate bladder, bowel and sexual functions are integrated and interact with one another.

Five projects, three clinical and two translational are currently underway. Clinical research is the testing of a theory and its application, while translational research facilitates the connection between the study and its practical applications to people. You can read about these projects here, including Professor Bradbury’s research on restoration of function through axonal regeneration.

Meet the Trustee

Q&A with Peter Benson


His Honour Peter Benson, retired circuit judge, joined our board of trustees on 21 January 2019. Prior to this he was one of Bradford's best known and well-respected judges, having first been called to the Bar in 1975. He then worked as a barrister in Leeds until 2001, when he was made a full-time circuit judge, specialising in criminal law. We thought we’d share a bit about him and his relationship with Spinal Research.

What motivated you to become a Spinal Research trustee? I was introduced to Spinal Research by Robert Shelton, an old friend (and current Trustee), and decided to become a trustee myself because I was interested in supporting research into this very debilitating condition.

How have you found the role and what are you most excited about? I have been fascinated to enter a new world of scientific research and have been hugely impressed by the energy and commitment of the practitioners in the field who are striving to make breakthroughs.

What are the challenges? The main challenge the charity faces is to increase the amount of funding to support this very important work. Though it is encouraging that we are exploring ways in which to co-operate with sister organisations.

Do you have a message for our supporters? All those who support this great cause deserve our deepest thanks and I hope that they will continue to support us in the future.

Arron's Story

My mind is at ease with my situation after all these years. However, if I could walk my daughter down the aisle one day, that would make me a very happy man.

Arron always had a passion for rugby. In fact, the whole family did: his brother also played, while his parents ran the local club.

In 2007, after returning from holiday in Ibiza, Arron went straight to the field for his match – this was when his injury happened. During the last few minutes of the game, with bodies piling on top of him, Arron knew something was wrong.

Aware of everything going on around him he was rushed to the local hospital and then on to Queens Hospital in London and eventually the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville. Arron had sustained a complete spinal cord break at C5-C6 and after an emergency operation went on to spend nine months there.

His family and friends made sure he was never alone the entire time, something which Arron feels extremely lucky for.

13 years later, Arron recalls that the first few years he was plagued with bowel and bladder issues as his body adapted to new routines; his catheter would regularly get blocked. And this is where his hopes for research lie, along with the relief of pressure sores.

Since the accident, after getting some feeling back in his arms, Arron has learnt to drive an adapted van and acquired a wheelchair, meaning he can go out with his daughter. “I feel like a naughty school kid when I’m out with her,” he says.
He has also formed a podcast group with best friends David Holmes and Chris Yates, who also have SCI’s, where they provide newly injured people with advice and support.

Thank you from Spinal Research!

Here at Spinal Research we would like to say a huge THANK YOU for your wonderful support in the past year. Thanks so much to everyone who ran or cycled at an event, organised your own fundraising, volunteered, made a donation, left a legacy in your Will, or shaken a bucket to raise money. Whichever way you got involved - you are helping to make a difference! Our work on developing effective treatments for spinal cord injury depends on the kind supporters like you. Thank you again for being here with us.