Departments

Austin Health takes centre stage at Spinal Cord Society conference

22 August 2019

The Minister for Roads, Road Safety and the TAC, the Hon Jaala Pulford, joined Austin Health's Associate Professor Andrew Nunn to open the 2019 Australian and New Zealand Spinal Cord Society (ANZSCoS) Annual Scientific Meeting today.

The three-day conference includes presentations and panel discussions featuring a number of Austin Health staff.

A/Prof Nunn said the theme of this year's conference is SCI - Working Together Now & Tomorrow with presenters from around the world talking through the latest advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Another key speaker at the conference, Dr Susan Harkema, led a ground breaking American study that has enabled patients with completely paralysed legs to walk again.

The study, published in the New England Journal, showed that electrical stimulation of the spine, when combined with a very intense and specialized training program, can re-educate the body and help move the legs even though signals from the brain are cut off.

"The spinal cord can relearn to walk independently," Dr Harkema said.

"It might be that the spinal cord can act on its own, almost completely without signals from the brain.

"It can relearn. We can retrain it to function even though there is that injury disconnecting it from the brain," she said.

A/Prof Nunn said the study was cutting edge and has the potential to change the lives of patients.

Other Austin Health speakers at the conference include Steven Wells (Gardens and Grounds), Anton Harrington (Occupational Therapy), Dr Gillean Hilton (Victorian Spinal Cord Service) and Dr David Berlowitz (Institute of Breathing and Sleep at Austin Health).

Former Royal Talbot patient and Australia's first ever Aboriginal Paralympian, Kevin Coombes AO, also performed the Welcome to Country at the start of today's proceedings.

The conference runs until Friday 23 August.