European Neurotrauma School

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From 24 June to 1 July, Wings for Life and Spinal Research held their first European Neurotrauma Summer School for PhD students working on spinal cord injury research. The students and guest speakers travelled from across the world to come together in London for a full week of lectures, interactive sessions and group visits.

David Allan, trustee for Spinal Research and Director of the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit for Scotland, explained the purpose of the event: “Essentially we’re trying to captivate the minds of young researchers to become heavily engaged in looking for solutions to spinal cord injury.”

The students were taught by some of world’s leading researchers and clinicians including Prof Armin Curt from University of Zurich (Switzerland), Prof Samuel David from McGill University (Canada), Dr Adam Ferguson from University of California (USA), Prof James Fawcett from University of Cambridge (UK), Prof Jan Schwab from Charité Hospital (Germany) and Prof William Tetzlaff from University of British Columbia (Canada).

Prof Tetzlaff commented before his session on cell therapy: “I hope to provoke thinking, give the students an update on where the field stands and make them aware of where the obstacles are so they can incorporate new learnings within their science. This week is important because the chances are that it will be these up-and-coming students who hit a ‘home run’ in spinal cord injury research.”

Throughout the week the students were engaged in a broad range of topics such as the neurobiology of the spinal cord, the mechanisms of injury, the role of plasticity and rehabilitation and the development of treatments. There was a strong emphasis on the application of research to people with a spinal cord injury and sessions were held with clinicians and neurosurgeons who treat patients on a daily basis.

Claire Meehan, a student from Copenhagen University working on the role of electrophysiology in spinal cord injury treatment, said: “There has been a big focus on the importance of translation in research and the challenges of going from animal to human models. That’s been really insightful for me.”

Over the course of the summer school, Claire and the other students worked together on a group project to develop the ideal treatment strategy for spinal cord injury. Claire said: “Our group is focusing on how we can use existing treatments which are showing positive effects to improve the quality of life for patients, in particular chronic pain.”

Reflecting on the success of the week Prof Jan Schwab, Scientific Director of Wings for Life, said: “I’m really pleased. We’ve covered a rich set of integrated topics and given a good overview of the dogmas in our field. I hope we’ve provided an important stepping stone to help the students to ask even better questions in their future research.”