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St George’s scientist receives prestigious £2m funding award into spinal cord injuries

Published: 08 January 2021


Dr Samira Saadoun, a senior lecturer in Neuroscience at St George’s, has been awarded more than £2 million in funding as co-chief investigator with Dr Papadopoulos, a St George’s neurosurgeon. They will lead an international team of researchers to test new treatments for improving outcomes in patients with spinal cord injuries.

In previous research, Dr Saadoun has shown that damaged spinal cords swell in rodents and are compressed against the surrounding tough membrane, called the dura. Her work has suggested that surgically opening the dura should relieve the pressure on the cord.

Dr Saadoun then translated these findings to patients by developing techniques to monitor pressure, metabolism and inflammation from the injury site. This generated substantial international excitement. Dr Saadoun, therefore, organised a meeting in London in 2018 bringing in researchers from around the world to discuss how these findings could be applied to patients.

The new research programme, named DISCUS, is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). It will make use of Dr Saadoun’s techniques to monitor the injury site, using a probe to assess the injured spinal cord in real time and intervene if needed to reduce pressure or improve metabolism. DISCUS aims to recruit more than 200 patients to test the idea that opening the dura after spinal cord injury greatly improves limb strength compared with current treatment.

Dr Saadoun said: “This grant is the culmination of many years of research in my lab at St George’s and in patients with spinal cord injuries at the neurosurgery department in the hospital. DISCUS includes a range of mechanistic research studies and a large-scale clinical trial.”

Dr Papadopoulos adds: "This is the first time the NIHR have funded a multi-centre clinical trial aiming to improve the management of patients with spinal cord injuries.”

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