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BioSpine: Revolutionising Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Image Credits: Griffith University, Press Release
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Griffith University’s vital research programme on digitally-enabled rehabilitation technology for spinal cord injury (SCI) has received a significant funding injection of AU$3.8 million from the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC). The funding will support Dr. Claudio Pizzolato from the School of Health Sciences and Social Work (SHS) and the Griffith Centre for Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering (GCORE), along with Adjunct Research Fellow Dr. Dinesh Palipana and their team.

The focus will be on advancing the BioSpine research programme, which aims to enhance motor and sensory function for individuals with SCI. This funding will facilitate the programme’s progression towards commercialisation, while also enabling the development of non-invasive technologies to augment neural recovery for spinal cord injury patients.

The ultimate goal is to make these life-changing methods accessible beyond the university setting, benefiting the approximately 20,800 Australians currently living with SCI and the 350-400 individuals who sustain new injuries each year.

Around 80% of spinal cord injuries (SCI) are a result of traumatic incidents, with nearly half of them stemming from motor vehicle accidents. Currently, a clinical study is underway to evaluate the long-term effects of BioSpine’s innovative rehabilitation approach on the motor and sensory function of individuals with SCI.

Dr. Dinesh Palipana, an Adjunct Research Fellow involved in the project, explained that the next phase of the BioSpine initiative will involve integrating advanced electrical stimulation techniques for the spine. With a team of talented researchers already at Griffith University and upcoming additions to further develop this area, Dr. Palipana expressed optimism regarding the potential of this intervention to restore function in SCI patients. The team aims to produce more promising outcomes during this stage, with the ultimate goal of significantly enhancing the quality of life for individuals with paralysis.

According to its Insurance Commissioner, the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC) is demonstrating its continued support for the Biospine team due to the promising outcomes achieved with Biospine 1.0, which MAIC has been supporting for the past three years. Biospine 2.0 presents an opportunity to expedite and validate the various technologies and approaches involved, bringing them closer to being implemented for individuals with spinal cord injuries.

Moreover, spinal cord injuries impose significant costs on Queensland motorists and the healthcare system. Therefore, even incremental improvements in sensory perception and motor skills would represent a significant step forward in enhancing both independence and quality of life for affected individuals, while simultaneously reducing costs associated with the insurance scheme and healthcare.

In a collaborative effort with Senior Lecturer Tim Marsh from Griffith Film School (Creative Arts Research Institute-CARI) and industry partners Myriads Studios, the integration of BioSpine BCI technologies with immersive, spatial, and virtual worlds will be further explored. This endeavour aims to enable participants to engage in various activities such as playing games, participating in sports, exploring virtual environments, and engaging in artistic expressions like dancing, acting, and performing.

Queensland’s Health Minister expressed the significance of the additional funding, highlighting the impactful purpose it serves. Minister Fentiman acknowledged the remarkable work being done by the entire team at Griffith University, including Dr. Pizzolato and Dr. Palipana, through the BioSpine research programme.

Recognising the groundbreaking nature of their work, the Minister emphasised the potential for improving the lives of thousands of individuals living with spinal cord injuries, expressing gratitude for their efforts. This aligns with the recent announcement by the Queensland Government to allocate AU$5 million towards the establishment of a state-of-the-art spinal injuries unit, further demonstrating their commitment to advancing spinal injury care in the region.

BioSpine is a cross-disciplinary project that involves various departments and institutes within Griffith University, including GCORE (Griffith Centre for Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering), Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT), the School of Health Sciences (SHS), the School of Engineering and Built Environment, and the Griffith Film School.

In addition to the internal collaboration, BioSpine also benefits from external collaborations. One such collaborator is Professor Yang D Teng from the Harvard Medical School and a Harvard-Australia fellow. Furthermore, the Gold Coast University Hospital and a Gold Coast industry partner are also actively involved in supporting the BioSpine project. These external partnerships bring expertise, resources, and valuable perspectives to the project, enhancing its overall impact and potential for success.

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