11:14 AM

Belford Fund gives $10 million for spinal cord research at Ohio State

Estimated 17,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injury each year

A $10 million gift from the Belford Family Charitable Fund will allow The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to establish a center focused on spinal cord injury research to prolong and improve the quality of life of patients.

Approved by the Wexner Medical Center Board and pending approval by The Ohio State University Board of Trustees at its meeting this week, the gift will establish The Belford Center for Spinal Cord Injury at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in collaboration with Ohio State’s Neurological Institute.

Through their charitable fund, the Belford family is making this gift to advance scientific research that will improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. Those injuries often lead to additional health problems, including high blood pressure, incontinence, increased risk for infection, obesity and diabetes. Largely because of these secondary issues, the mortality rate for people with spinal cord injuries has not changed in more than 20 years.

“The spinal cord injury group in Ohio State’s College of Medicine is an international leader in the field,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, dean of the College of Medicine. “This transformational gift will allow this team of talented researchers to further enhance the care of patients with this devastating injury. We’re so grateful to the Belford family for this life-changing contribution.”

Phillip Popovich, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Ohio State and director of Ohio State’s Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, said the Belford gift will allow researchers to focus on the type of innovative science necessary to improve those rates.

“The Belford gift is a game-changer for Ohio State in a number of ways,” Popovich said. “It establishes a lifetime commitment to promote spinal cord injury research at Ohio State. It also will allow us to test difficult and important questions more quickly. Accelerating discovery should allow us to move more quickly to the clinic, where we can tell patients, ‘we’re ready, we think we have something that can help you.’”

In a statement, the Belford family said: “We’re honored to be able to give this research team the resources to improve the lives of others. Ohio State’s team already is leading the world in spinal cord injury treatment and research, and we look forward to their future innovations and discoveries – discoveries that we hope will make for longer, healthier lives for people with spinal cord injuries.”

Popovich and fellow spinal cord injury researchers Dana McTigue, professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Neuroscience, and Dr. Jan Schwab, professor of Neurology and Neuroscience and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Division, will lead the center, which will focus on novel approaches in medical research, patient care, education and training to redefine spinal cord injury care.

As of 2016, an estimated 282,000 people were living with spinal cord injuries in the United States, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center.

Each year about 17,000 Americans suffer a spinal cord injury. Vehicle crashes, sports injuries and accidental falls are currently the leading causes of injury.

Previous research by Ohio State has shown that spinal cord injuries can cause a “paralysis” of the immune system. Patients with injured spinal cords are 37 times more likely to die of an infection than someone without a spinal cord injury.

The Belford Center will focus on the treatment of spinal cord injuries as a systemic disease to reduce the onset or impact of complications. 

The Belford gift will create a current-use fund to support the mission of the center, along with two endowed chairs in spinal cord injury and a research innovation endowed fund.

In the past decade, Ohio State’s Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair has trained more than 200 researchers worldwide – many of whom have gone on to lead other spinal cord injury research teams in the United States and abroad.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the Belford family for their generosity and vision,” said Ohio State President Michael V. Drake. “The Belford Center will dramatically enhance our ability to pioneer new breakthroughs in spinal cord injury research and help thousands of patients and families.”