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Spinal Injury Research Unit

Spinal cord injury (SCI) affects many organs and systems and results in plethora of conditions some of which - such as musculoskeletal problems, immune response and susceptibility to infections are a result of complex interplay between age, environment and genetics and are difficult to predict or complex to treat. Laboratory research investigates the underlying biological mechanisms of such conditions and the possibilities for new therapies, which makes it a valuable element in our institutional bench-to-society research program. The Spinal Injury Research Unit is operating the state-of-the-art biomedical laboratories in Nottwil and has two major areas of interest - aging with spinal cord injury (SCI) and SCI biobanking.

In the area of aging with SCI we are interested in musculoskeletal research and immunity and infection. A well-developed topic is intervertebral disc repair using mesenchymal stem cells. The main aim of this regenerative approach is to preserve the mobility of the spine, especially in relatively young patients. Recently we also started to study the how the immune system in persons with SCI ages, a process also known as immunosenescence. The need for research in this area is coming from the increased frequency of urinary, lung and skin infections after SCI.

The concept of SCI biobanking is at the stage of development of technical feasibility studies. In future the biobank will provide a platform for testing scientific and medical hypothesis and work in a synergy with the Swiss Spinal Cord Injury Cohort Study (SwiSCI). As epidemiological study, SwiSCI will provide major assets for biobanking: a nation-wide and representative study population; prospective lifetime follow up of participants; potential for genetic and metabolic association studies comparing SCI to the general population; a data model facilitating international collaborative research.

Spinal Injury Research collaborates with eminent experts from the universities of Bern and Zurich, ETH Zurich and AO Research, Davos.

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