“This is tangible evidence of our efforts to become a nationally recognized premier metropolitan research university,” said UofL President James Ramsey. “We have taken the investment that the state has made in our program, brought in the best researchers to work on spinal cord injury and begun to help people. This is our mandate and we are fulfilling it.”

“This is just one example of the type of work being conducted across the UofL Health Sciences Center,” said David L. Dunn, executive vice president for health affairs. “The state’s investment in our program enabled us to bring together a cadre of scientists to work on the issues associated with spinal cord injuries. They have grown that initial investment exponentially by successfully competing for extramural funding and with it, developed the interdisciplinary relationships required to move the science out of the laboratory and into the health care setting.”

Started in 1988 as the Joint Spine Research Laboratory, the Kentucky Spinal Cord Research Center within the UofL Department of Neurological Surgery has taken $19.2 million in state funding as a mix from the surcharges on Kentucky traffic tickets and the Bucks for Brains program. In addition to the extramural research funding, UofL has received more than $6 million in private contributions that has enabled an additional $8.4 million to help support the researchers.

“We have a unique opportunity here in Kentucky to make great strides in understanding and treating spinal cord injuries,” said Scott Whittemore, scientific director of the center. “We have brought in some of the leading scientists in the world to explore spinal cord injuries from the cellular level all the way to clinical application. With the collaboration we have, and the relationship UofL has with the Frazier Rehab Institute, we can test new clinical theories quickly, study the impacts at the cellular level and adjust the next round of investigation.

“The funding we receive from the Commonwealth of Kentucky is critical to our continued progress in helping millions of people regain movement. Our objective continues to be to develop novel therapies that will have significant impacts on peoples’ lives. And this is just the most recent example.

“Significant cellular work continues to provide important clues to additional applications and further progress.”

Earlier this year, researchers of the UofL center, along with colleagues at UCLA and California Tech, reported results of implanting an electrical stimulator into a paraplegic patient to provide continuous electrical impulses to the spinal cord. The patient now has the ability to stand unaided, take a few steps and move his legs voluntarily.

Also this year, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education awarded researchers at UofL and Frazier Rehab Institute funding to establish a Spinal Cord Injury Model System. The grant is one of 14 in the United States awarded.

Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.