Boston, MA – When the public hears the term paralysis, it often conjures someone with a spinal cord injury. While an estimated 1.2 million Americans do suffer from paralysis due to a spinal cord injury, the number of Americans impacted by paralysis is even more widespread, with closer to 1 in 50 affected, according to a Reeve Foundation study in 2009. Paralysis is caused by a wide variety of complex conditions, many of which are neurologic in nature,  such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury among others. 

Recently, the Cele H. & William B. Rubin Family Fund, Inc., in an effort to create a more collaborative and comprehensive approach toward the treatment and potential cure, established the Ellen R. and Melvin J. Gordon Center for the Cure and Treatment of Paralysis at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The Rubin Fund committed $5 million dollars to establish the center, whose charge is to make major and lasting changes in the understanding, development of treatment interventions, and possible cure for paralysis, including that caused by brain stem injury. Ross D. Zafonte, DO, senior vice president of medical affairs, research and education and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, will serve as the center’s director. Michael E. Greenberg, PhD, department chair and Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, will oversee the associated fellowship program at HMS.

“When we look at paralysis in total as a disease model we see that its impact is incredibly broad, severely inhibiting the quality of life for millions of individuals, many of them suffering silently with little hope for improvement,” says Zafonte. “With the generous support from the Rubin Fund, our goal is to establish the Ellen R. and Melvin J. Gordon Center for the Cure and Treatment of Paralysis as a beacon of discovery and hope on par with the top centers in the world.”

“We are grateful to the Rubin Fund for both their generosity and foresight,” says Greenberg. “Harvard Medical School’s expertise starts at the lab bench and expands to the clinic. The more we investigate the fundamental biology of neurological damage, the stronger our clinical interventions will be. The establishment of this new Center will enable those of us at the medical school to engage even more productively with our outstanding colleagues at Spaulding. We're delighted at this opportunity.”

The center will enable researchers and clinicians from Spaulding and Harvard to coordinate with scientists from across the country and the world to expedite novel therapies and potential cures. In addition to contributing to the current knowledge base through research studies, the center will convene an annual meeting of investigators to share results and review accomplishments. The center will also seek new ways to deliver care at Spaulding and provide information to the broader community of people with disabilities.

“If we use this opportunity to its full potential, I have no doubt we will remember this moment, enabled by the Rubin Fund, as making a fundamental difference in our approach to paralysis,” says Zafonte. “I couldn’t be more hopeful of what we can do and I know all of us at Spaulding and Harvard Medical School involved in this are ready to get to work.”