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Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation Invests $1.25M in Spinal Cord Injury Research at MCW

Milwaukee, September 17, 2019 – Ever since an accident in 1998 left Bryon Riesch paralyzed from the chest down, he has worked to achieve what he believes is his life’s purpose: to find a cure for paralysis. The Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation recently announced a gift of $1.25 million to support neuroscience research at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).

The foundation has previously supported MCW through grants totaling more than $1.2 million, including a $1 million endowment in 2010, since its establishment in 2001. This most recent award will go toward MCW’s Center for Neurotrauma Research in the Department of Neurosurgery to fund spinal cord injury research.

“MCW has truly earned that,” said Riesch, president of the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation and member of MCW’s Neuroscience Research Center Board. “They’ve worked hard, and we’re so proud to be able to support them and make the next 10 to 20 years that much more exciting.”

Smaller seed grants from the foundation to MCW have turned into millions of dollars in federal funding for larger studies that have led to advanced diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation for spinal cord injury. In 2010, the foundation established a research lab at MCW dedicated specifically to this type of research through a $1 million endowment. MCW researchers have been able to leverage the support from the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation to generate over $6M in research funding for spinal cord injury from the NIH, VA and other sponsors.

Advanced research at MCW and elsewhere has improved the quality of life of those who are paralyzed by creating smaller cures that allow people to regain feeling in their fingertips or other limbs or improve bladder function. In Riesch’s case, MCW doctors were able to insert a pump into his back to help treat his debilitating back spasms and reduced his medications.

Small advances like this were once thought impossible, said Shekar N. Kurpad, MD, PhD, Sanford J. Larson Professor and Chair in the Department of Neurosurgery at MCW, whose spinal cord research has been supported greatly by the Foundation. Dr. Kurpad remembers reading textbooks as a medical student that made it clear that once the spinal cord was injured, there was no possibility of regeneration or return of function.

“I’d like to see that proved wrong,” Dr. Kurpad said. “I’d like to see Bryon walk. I’d like to see other patients with spinal cord injuries walk. Now it’s our job as scientists and physicians to find out how to harness the knowledge to make a practical difference.”

“Bryon's personal dedication to advancing spinal cord research is both inspiring and humbling to all of us here at MCW," said John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, MCW president and CEO. "Thanks to the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation’s renewed investment in the MCW Department of Neurosurgery, we are confident that we will continue to see remarkable discoveries and innovations in this field."

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