Project information

Mechanisms of damage and repair to plan treatments

Understanding mechanisms of damage and repair after a spinal cord injury and their contribution in designing treatment strategies is a three year research project under the supervision of Prof Sue Barnett and Dr John Riddell at the University of Glasgow

October 2011 - October 2014

Charity information: Spinal Research

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  • Need


    After a spinal cord injury (SCI) delicate nerve fibres are left damaged and unable to function. This leads to interrupted connections between the cord and the parts of the body it controls, and results in loss of movement, sensation and function in the individual. Further cell death and disruption then occurs in what is known as secondary damage but in some patients we witness a spontaneous degree of recovery. Greater understanding of these processes is important to design effective treatments


    One treatment in development uses specialised cells found in the nose called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs).These cells are usually found in the back of the nose and have a natural ability to repair themselves after damage. Therefore these cells hold great potential in treatment for SCI. Studies using OECs transplantation in
    laboratory models of SCI have also shown some growth of injured nerves into the spinal cord, many questions about this treatment however remain open.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Achieve a better understanding of the damage and repair mechanism after injury


    » Investigate the electrical properties of the tissue around the injury site (a measure of the spinal cord’s ability to conduct nerve signals).

    Success will be once this important baseline information has been gathered we will have a much clearer idea of the processes that happen after injury occurs.

    Aim 2

    Compare the effect and mechanism of OEC treatment at various points after injury


    » Using knowledge from aim one, compare how effective treatments using OECs is by transplanting these cells at various times after injury

    When we know the best time to deliver OEC's, if they protect cells from secondary damage, if and how they repair a damaged spinal cord and how they affect spontaneous recovery.

  • Impact


    There are 50,000 people living with paralysis in the UK alone, and a further 3 people join this number daily. The knowledge gained in this project would be a significant step further in the development of therapies using OEC’s, and to maximise their efficacy. This would take us closer to the point when we will be able to run clinical trials testing the efficacy of such treatments on people who have been paralysed and to potentially transform their lives through restoring movement and function.


    The nature of pioneering research means that we venture into unknown territory and so the risk is that we never truly know the outcome of a project in advance. Our application and review process works to mitigate this risk. The 18 members of our scientific committee are widely regarded as the best in the field and collectively they peer review all applications. We then choose to fund only those with the strongest preliminary data and anticipated outcomes which link to our overall aims.


    We receive progress reports from all of our projects every 12 months - if a project has more specific results every 6 months. We share these updates immediately with all our donors. Our Director of Research regularly speaks with donors and we can arrange lab tours to visit the project.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £218,417

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      Amount Heading Description
      £123,417 Staff Costs Two lead researchers, one scientific and one technical assistant
      £95,000 Materials and equipment For use during the project

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    Individual gifts, charitable foundations and trusts £39,500 Guaranteed
  • Background


    University of Glasgow - the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, together with the National Spinal Injury Centre in Glasgow, are amongst the most respected centres of research in this field and are at the vanguard of the development of treatments to repair spinal damage.


    The ultimate beneficiaries of our research will be those affected by paralysis – people who have suffered a spinal cord injury, their families and friends.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    We have a long-standing reputation amongst the scientific community for the quality of our research and are internationally respected. All projects we fund are peer-reviewed by our Scientific Committee (comprising of some of the best experts in the field) and adhere to strict guidelines and controls. We give priority to research into chronic conditions and non-locomotive functions, knowing that improvements in bladder, bowel and sexual function would increase quality of life for many people.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Dr Mark Bacon

    Director of Research