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Challenge Seeks Spinal Cord Solutions, Offers $50K Awards

Model of spine (NIH)


5 December 2014. The Conquer Paralysis Now challenge is looking for new treatments for spinal cord injuries, as well as ideas to help patients with these injuries perform everyday functions that fully abled people can do unaided. The first round competition awards grants of $50,000 in six categories, with a deadline of 1 April 2015 for submissions. After initial rounds, the competition progresses to a $10 million prize for treatments that restore recovery in multiple functions lost from spinal cord injuries.

Damage from spinal cord injury can result in permanent changes in strength, sensation, and functioning of the body below the site of the injury. Severity of the injury depends on location of the injury along the spinal cord and amount of damage. The result can range from loss of some function and partial paralysis to complete loss of functions and paralysis of two or four limbs, as well as loss of pelvic organ functions. In some cases, respiratory functions can be affected.

The challenge’s first round, conducted through InnoCentive, seeks new and unconventional ideas for treatment and rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord injuries. The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation sponsoring the competition plans to award grants of $50,000 that act as seed funding for a wide range of ideas and approaches that may not be considered feasible under normal grant-making procedures. Two or more awards will be given in each of six categories:

– New investigators, defined as newly hired researchers that begin their career in spinal cord injury research after their graduate studies or established researchers who recently switched to the field.

Inter-disciplinary collaborations, representing two or more diverse fields and labs, aiming for solutions to help patients with spinal cord injuries. Four grants are expected to be awarded in this category, to serve the larger number of participating labs.

– Cross-over initiatives, encouraging neurological research from related fields such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease to be applied to spinal cord injury

– Translational initiatives that apply concepts generated from preclinical studies with animals to human clinical trials

– Out-of-the-box awards, for truly revolutionary proposals with high potential, but also high risks.

– Reaching and grasping awards, for research aimed at restoring reaching and grasping functions usually impaired in spinal cord injuries.

InnoCentive calls this type of competition an ideation challenge, requiring a brief (two-page) proposal. Ideation proposals can contain ideas originating from the participants, ideas from the public domain where no restrictions are applied, or ideas from third-parties where participants have the rights propose solutions with those ideas. Participants are asked not to submit confidential information in their proposals.

Conquer Paralysis Now anticipates holding annual first-round competitions for six years, to generate a pool of potential solutions, then advance the challenge to a second round of spinal cord injury research on animal models and with humans, resulting in four finalists with prizes of $500,000 each. The finalists will then compete for the $10 million grand prize.

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