How Your Donations Become Research Projects

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Once a year, the executive board and the scientific management of Wings for Life sit down together to decide which new research projects should be funded. CEO International Gerhardter reveals more about this important meeting.

How many research projects has Wings for Life decided to support in 2017?
Generally speaking: the more donations we receive, the more research projects we can support financially. As a rule, we fund approx. 15 to 20 new projects. Then there are those projects that we have already supported for the last two or three years. Thanks to our generous donors and the many participants at the Wings for Life World Run, we were able to pledge our support to 25 new projects this year.

How long do you support these projects?
We fund most of them for three years. 59 projects are currently underway. Since our foundation, we have funded no less than 170 research projects and clinical trials.

Where can one find out more about these projects?
All research projects are described in detail on our homepage; the information is accessible for everyone. 

What determines whether a project receives funding or not?
We base this decision on a whole catalogue of criteria. Most importantly, the research project in question should bring us a step closer to finding a cure. In order to ensure that we only fund the most promising projects, we have developed an elaborate selection process.

What does this process entail?
It starts with the so-called executive summaries. Researchers from all around the globe send us funding applications in which they outline their respective research projects. We assess these applications in-depth. Then we make a first pre-selection.

What’s the next step?
We then ask the remaining projects for a so-called full application. In this, researchers explain their projects down to the last detail. These full applications are sent to at least two independent experts. After this step, the projects are once more evaluated by our scientific advisory board, who are all veritable “rock stars” in their respective fields. The last stage is - based on all the previous expert opinions - a final decision during a meeting within the foundation.

Anita Gerhardter and Wings for Life founder Heinz Kinigadner
Anita Gerhardter and Wings for Life founder Heinz Kinigadner  

Where did most of the application originate?
As in previous years, the majority came from the US, Canada, and Europe. Surprisingly, researchers from Iran, Estonia, and Korea have also submitted applications for financial support.

How many projects focus on acute and chronic injuries respectively?
Some projects raise fundamental questions. In these cases, the results could be of interest to both acute and chronic patients. Unlike in previous years, we now support numerous projects that are particularly relevant to chronic patients.

Is there a project that you find particularly interesting from a personal point of view?
Researchers have recently discovered that mechanical pulling can result in the regenerations of axons. One of our new projects is trying to clarify the underlying mechanisms. This is new and exciting; we’ve never seen such an approach before.

How much does such a project cost?
It differs from case to case. Fundamental research - i.e. work in the laboratory - is usually less expensive and is funded with a maximum of 100,000 Euros per year. A clinical trial, on the other hand, can cost several million Euros.

How do you feel after such a decision-finding meeting?
I am incredibly focused throughout during the meeting and feel as if I have just run a marathon once it’s over. Thus, I feel very exhausted, but also very satisfied.

What happens after the project selection process?
We finalise a contract with the researchers, who then start their work in the laboratories and clinics. At the same time, we publish descriptions of the research projects here to ensure that everyone knows what we are funding and where their donations end up.

When do the researchers deliver first results?
After 1.5 years, we receive a detailed interim report. In addition, the researchers are required to present their progress during our annual scientific meeting. Once a project is concluded, the researchers publish their findings in trade magazines and thus make their knowledge available to the world.

With your support we are able to fund cutting-edge research projects all over the world. Thank you!