Mr Cross speaks with the Premier and Dr St John. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker
Perry Cross, who has been a quadriplegic since 1994, speaks with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and research team leader Dr James St John. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker

By Ashleigh Whittaker

A new research centre that has begun pioneering research and already boasts a breakthrough in nasal stem cell science was officially opened today by the Queensland Premier.

The Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research located at Griffith University is considered capable of changing the lives of people living with quadriplegia.

Ms Palaszczuk said the research is “a potential medical breakthrough that has the capability of changing people’s lives, not just here in Queensland, but throughout the world.”

The relatively non-invasive nasal stem cell procedure is causing a stir in the medical community.

The process involves a small biopsy to take stem cells from the inside of the nose. The stem cells are then grown in a lab before being inserted into the injured spine of a patient, where they further develop to form a cellular bridge.

The cellular bridge then helps nerve cells to regenerate, eventually resulting in the return of sensation and function in the injured body parts.

But the researchers warn the process takes at least 12 months with the stem cells having to be guided to their ideal location by extensive physiotherapy.

Dr James St John is the research team leader and said the prospect of an upcoming trial is thrilling.

Dr James St John at the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker
Dr James St John at the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker

“We are getting some fantastic results and are unbelievably excited about it,” he said.

“Imagine what it would be like for a paralysed person to stand up out of a wheelchair and walk again, and to feel their legs as well.

“It is something that we thought wasn’t possible.”

The second phase of human trials will begin in 2018 with 25 paralysed Australians to take part.

Perry Cross is a 41-year-old whose life was changed after a rugby game left him a quadriplegic.

Perry Cross speaks to the media. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker
Perry Cross speaks to the media. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker

Mr Cross has started his own foundation for spinal cord injury research and is heartened by the research facilities.

“This centre offers true hope that one day we will be able to cure paralysis,” Mr Cross said.

“When I was injured, they said there was never any hope of curing paralysis. But as time went on, the realisation became truer. Medical research has improved rapidly, particularly in the last five, 10 years.

“Now there is real hope that one day people will walk, mainly because of work done here at the university.”

Mr Cross said the cost of his injury weighs very heavily on his mind, with the lifetime cost per case of quadriplegia, estimated to be $9.5 million.

“Life, in a situation like this, as a quadriplegic, is pretty tough.”

Mr Cross only has feeling in his face. He hopes the results of the upcoming clinical trial will help him to at least regain sensation in his limbs.

“I not only can’t move, but I can’t feel. That’s the big thing people forget. To be able to feel touch is a huge thing- it is one of our five senses.”

“The first step is to improve people’s function. We don’t want to proclaim that we will have everyone up and walking straight away, it is going to take time and it is going to take a lot of effort.”

Ms Palaszczuk was “very pleased” to see the opening of the world class research centre. Source: Ashleigh Whittaker

Ms Palaszczuk reminded the attendees that disability doesn’t discriminate and so funding and research was vital for those affected.

“Let’s remember that disability can happen to anyone at any time. You can have an acquired brain injury or a spinal injury through a motor vehicle accident, through diving into the surf or into a creek. There are a lot of different ways people can have an acquired brain injury or spinal injury. This [research] has the potential ability to transform these lives.”

More than 12,000 Australians live with spinal paralysis.