Sometimes, situations arise that we know just are not right. They make us mad, or frustrated, and we say to ourselves, no way, that shouldn’t happen. But most of the time, that’s all we do—just talk about it to ourselves or our neighbors and adopt the attitude of “What can I do to change this?” Here is a little story about what could happen if we stopped just talking about change and started actually trying to change things.
In 2012, there were an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 spinal cord injuries, with almost 40% of them occurring from car accidents. More than half of these patients were between the ages of 15 and 30, and the cost of managing the care of spinal cord injury patients approaches $4 billion each year. I won’t even talk about what this does on a day-to-day basis to the patients and their families. Back in 1998 in New York State, under Gov. George Pataki, the state passed legislation that tacked a $5 surcharge onto all moving violations to finance the Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund. This fee raises about $150 million annually, and up to $8.5 million of that was intended to assist spinal cord researchers through a grant program called the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP). That is a little more than 5% of that surcharge. From 1998 through 2009, some $70 million was spent on research. SCIRP has been highly successful in promoting key advances in robotics, electrical stimulation, and pharmacology to prevent damage and promote repair and cell therapy. This has made New York a leader in the search for cures for paralysis, research that can also be used to treat other disorders and diseases of the nervous system. Investing this money in scientific advancement attracts biotech companies to the state, say supporters of paralysis research, and has inspired other states to create similar programs.
Since 2010, however, all of the revenue derived from the surcharge has been diverted from spinal cord research to the general fund and used to pay the state’s operating bills instead of to finance research projects. This violates the spirit of the law created for spinal cord injury relief and the profound wishes of advocates and patients. It undercuts the decision the state and people of New York made in 1998 to make a long-term, sustained investment in neuroscience research into spinal cord injury. While the state continued to collect the surcharge, the money was no longer being used for its intended purpose. Until now.
Thanks to the dedication of many spinal cord injury advocates and researchers, including Paul Richter, David Carmel, Terry O’Neil, and Sally Temple, the scientific director of our institute (the Neural Stem Cell Institute), a recent press release announced that there will be $2 million in the 2013-2014 state budget for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Trust Fund. This is fantastic news for all spinal cord researchers in NY state and beyond, and a great victory for all of those who wrote to their congressmen, stood up for what was right, and got the government to listen and re-invest in science and patients.
So we urge you, whether it’s funding or simply the way an experiment is conducted, stand up for what you believe is right. You might just make a difference.
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” — Abraham Lincoln
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