By Nate Herpich
This past month, members of the spinal cord injury community attended the 2013 Working 2 Walk symposium
, hosted by Unite 2 Fight Paralysis (U2FP)
in Boston, Massachusetts. Held annually since 2006, the event brings together researchers from academia and industry with individuals living with paralysis. It’s a rare occasion for each of these groups to share experiences and science, and to find ways to connect on projects that, in the future, could benefit each of these groups.
“Working 2 Walk provides a great opportunity for patients like myself to speak to scientists about the latest developments in spinal cord injury research, and for scientists to talk among themselves, and learn from each other,” says Reeve Foundation patient advocate Kris Gulden, who was among those in attendance. “It’s also a time to connect with some of my fellow ‘wheelers’ who attend this gathering year in, and year out, and to renew my commitment to the movement.”
During the course of the event, biotechs Acorda Therapeutics and InVivo Therapeutics presented on current drugs in development, while Marquette University’s Murray Blackmore, PhD, reported on gene therapy approaches to treat spinal cord injury. Zhigang He, PhD of Boston Children’s Hospital gave a talk on regeneration-based neural repair strategies for spinal cord injury. (The full list of speakers is here
One session of particular interest to Gulden was one on the neurological and psychological benefits of SCUBA diving on individuals with spinal cord injury. Gulden is an avid diver herself. “If we can take people SCUBA diving to improve function, that’s definitely a therapy I can support,” she says.
The weekend provided a packed schedule of speakers. But for some, explains Unite 2 Fight Paralysis Board Secretary and Special Projects Director Donna Sullivan, the most significant time in Boston was spent between sessions. “There is great value to having scientists and patients in the same space, and you’d be amazed at the kind of dialogue taking place,” she explains. We’ve had researchers leave the conference agreeing to collaborate on future projects. But perhaps more striking is that some scientists, for the first time, have the opportunity to meet someone with spinal cord injury. This puts a face to work they may be doing in a lab, and they are more motivated when they return to their labs. ”
Reeve Community Advocate Jennifer Longdon was attending her third Working 2 Walk symposium, where she says she made some new connections, and adopted some fresh perspectives to her own experience with spinal cord injury. “Listening to some of the latest science has energized me, ” she says. “I always come out of this event with a new project for the year ahead, and I’m sure this year will be no different.”
In addition to the Reeve Foundation, delegates from organizations such as the Travis Roy Foundation
, Sam Schmidt Foundation
, Rick Hansen Institute
, and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
were in attendance.
“It’s always nice to see the respect that Chris and Dana Reeve still have within the community,” explains conference attendee Michael Manganiello of HCM Strategists, and the former Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the Reeve Foundation. “The Reeve Foundation is clearly a critical piece of the puzzle in finding cures for spinal cord injury. It was encouraging to see so many people working together toward the same cause. United with one voice, we can truly make a difference.”
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