In the highly specialized world of modern biomedical research, it is all too easy for scientists to lose themselves in the microscopic complexities of the intracellular world—the genes, molecules and signaling pathways that are the keys to understanding disease and finding new treatments.
But at least once a year, the scientists at Yale’s Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration Research receive a bracing reminder of what’s really at stake in their work on spinal-cord repair when members of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) roll through the center’s front door in their wheelchairs. This year, PVA, which has supported the center since 1988, brought its largest contingent ever, along with a check for $225,000.
“PVA has been a wonderful partner in the battle against spinal-cord injury, but they give us more than money,” says Stephen G. Waxman, M.D., Ph.D., the center’s director and the Bridget Marie Flaherty Professor of Molecular Neurology. “They have given us a sense of vision and mission which are felt throughout this building.”
John Bollinger, PVA’s deputy executive director, says there was new excitement in the air during this year’s visit because the latest scientific strategies, including stem cell research, provide the clearest route he’s seen to successful therapies for spinal-cord injury.
“Every one of us probably heard a doctor say within hours after our injury, ‘You’re never going to walk again,’” says Bollinger, who was paralyzed while serving in the Navy. “Now people can actually talk about the cure. We feel very optimistic that they’re going to make significant advances at this center.”
Waxman agrees. “As someone who chooses words carefully, I didn’t feel I could use the word ’cure’ 10 years ago. Now I’m saying it’s on the table. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s an achievable goal.”