More than 15,000 Australians – and many millions worldwide – live with a spinal cord injury. Sadly, each day this number grows as a result of vehicle and sporting accidents, or even a simple fall.
Spinal cord injuries cost Australia an estimated $2 billion per year and hundreds of millions of this is incurred by the insurance industry through claims payments.
I recently had the opportunity to co-host an event with Chris Mackinnon, Country Head of Lloyds Australia, raising awareness around Project Edge – a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney and SpinalCure Australia with support from Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, to fund the first clinical research program outside the US of research by Professor Reggie Edgerton and his colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I was delighted so many of my industry peers joined us and would like to thank them for their support.
Special guests included SpinalCure CEO Duncan Wallace, a C 4/5 quadriplegic himself, and UTS Professor of Neuroscience, Bryce Vissel who heads the new world-leading UTS Centre for Neuroscience & Regenerative Medicine where the research program will take place. Both shared their inspirational journey and passion around Project Edge.
Professor Edgerton's team have used a new approach called neuromodulation to reawaken the spinal cord and restore feeling and function to more than 20 paralysed people. This means the ability to move limbs, the return of bladder, bowel, sexual and temperature regulation functions for the first time after a chronic spinal cord injury. The treatment involves the use of small electrodes, either implanted against the spinal cord or placed on the skin above it – described to me as like "currents of electricity jump-starting the spinal cord".
As someone who is personally fascinated by the opportunities technology presents, this is quite mind blowing. I am also particularly pleased to hear the entrenched belief that spinal injury is incurable has been quashed by such research.
But of course, new technology requires significant funding. When launched in 2016, the Project Edge team set a target to achieve $15 million in funding required for the five year project. Thanks to a $3 million commitment from Kerr Neilson and donations from their sponsors they are off to a flying start.
On this front, there is potential for the Australian insurance industry to come together and support further investment into risk mitigation and showcase the positive impact we can make to society.
While predominantly a non-life insurance issue, there is also relevance to those in life insurance. We know at present the Australian life market cannot pay for treatment, which can result in higher reliance on the healthcare system and medical technology funded by the public sector.
So as you can see, this is all intertwined. When I heard about Project Edge it was a no brainer – I knew Swiss Re must step in and help raise awareness.
If you are ready to be blown away even further, I suggest you take a moment to watch a short video with Professor Reggie Edgerton who pioneered the breakthrough treatment and one of the first four patient volunteers Rob Summers. I am sure you will agree when I say that both demonstrate immense resilience and perseverance. Something I unequivocally admire.
As an Australian I am concerned about the resilience of our country; as a parent, the resilience of my family; and as an insurance professional, the resilience of our industry. Such a medical breakthrough could mean so much for governments, insurers, and most importantly those living with a spinal cord injury. I encourage you to find out more.
Category: Funding longer lives: Health/medicine, Long-term care, Other
Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia