Clinical trials for spinal cord injury: Acute care to the community

Professor Sarah Dunlop, Head, School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia

Professor Sarah Dunlop leads an integrated program of laboratory and clinical research at UWA and at Royal Perth & Fiona Stanley Hospitals to promote functional recovery after traumatic injury to the nervous system, in particular, spinal cord injury. Completed clinical studies comprise three multi-centre randomized controlled trials “Spinal Cord Injury and Physical Activity (SCIPA)” involving all 8 spinal units in Australia and New Zealand to examine novel ways to exercise the paralysed limbs to promote neurological recovery and improve health and which spanned acute care to the community, reflecting the lifetime need of these patients. SCIPA.Com also developed a program to train the trainers, break down barriers to exercise and increase participation once patients are living in the community. “ICED” Immediate Cooling and Early Decompression) is another multi-centre clinical initiative focusing on acute spinal cord injury involving immediate hypothermia in the ambulance to buy time and limit the secondary damage before emergency surgical decompression. Another more recent multi-centre initiative involves examining bladder care and urinary tract infections, a major secondary complication following spinal cord injury often requiring re-hospitalisation, to promote best practice for bladder health.

Professor Sarah Dunlop was awarded her PhD from The University of London and pursued a research career at The University of Western Australia being funded by the NHMRC from 1981 and as a NHMRC Research Fellow from 1998 and Principal Research Fellow from 2011 – 2013. She has also received significant funding from other granting agencies including the ARC and the Neurotrauma Research Program and has over 200 publications. She was appointed Head of the School of Animal Biology in 2013, UWA and then Head of the School of Biological Sciences in 2017. She has held a number of other senior leadership positions including President of the Australian Neuroscience Society (2010 – 2011) and President of the Federation of Asian Oceanian Neuroscience Societies (2011 – 2013). She helped launch the Spinal Network serving on the Board and as Chair of its Clinical Trials Committee. She currently serves on the Board of the Quadriplegic Centre and is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Spinal Cord.