Travis Roy Foundation Teams Up with Wings for Life to Fund Spinal Cord Injury Researcher Dr. Joost Verhaagen

Posted on September 22, 2020

The Travis Roy Foundation has teamed up with Wings for Life to support the spinal cord injury research of Dr. Joost Verhaagen from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. Dr. Verhaagen’s work is focused on testing and developing the best methods for delivering a compound called chondroitinaise ABC to the spinal cord injury site. In recent work by other researchers around the world, chondroitinaise ABC has shown promise helping damaged neurons that are the cause of paralysis to regrow and reconnect leading to rats regaining some lost motor function.  This 3-year grant totaling approximately $250,000 was selected by the Travis Roy Foundation in close consultation with Wings for Life of Austria as a part of their annual project review and funding cycle.

“As a result of my accident almost 25 years ago, I lost a great many of my physical capabilities,” said Travis Roy, the former Boston University Terrier hockey player and founder of the Travis Roy Foundation.  “But the most important aspect of my life that I’d like to have back is my independence,” continued Travis.  “If I, and other quadriplegics like me, could use my arms and hands again to eat, to bathe, and to dress, we could live much more independent lives. We chose to fund this research because it is focused, in part, on regaining lost arm and hand function.”

Travis was a promising freshman hockey player for the national champion Boston University Terriers when he was paralyzed in a collision with the boards in his first game 25 years ago on October 20, 1995. Since then, his Foundation has raised more than $17 million dollars to provide quality of life grants of equipment to other spinal cord injury survivors and fund research into spinal cord injury solutions.

Dr. Verhaagen, who is partnering with Dr. Elizabeth Bradbury from Kings College of London on this work, has been involved in spinal cord injury research since 1998 and has been working on projects investigating gene therapy to repair nervous system injuries for 20 years.  “The work of Dr. Bradbury has shown that chondroitinase is a promising treatment for spinal cord injury. Due to many years of research, gene therapy now offers a solution for the problem of effectively expressing therapeutic proteins – including chondroitinase – in the injured spinal cord,” said Dr. Verhaagen. “The funding from Wings for Life in partnership with the Travis Roy Foundation will allow us to create a new gene therapy approach, where the chondroitinase gene can be switched on and off in the spinal cord when required. This therapy will undergo rigorous testing in a clinically highly relevant spinal cord contusion model,” he continued.

Because the field of neuroscience has become so complex in the last 20 years, collaboration between researchers and institutions has become a must in advancing the science as efficiently as possible.  “By teaming up with Dr Verhaagen we have a fantastic opportunity to combine his expertise in cutting edge gene therapy technology with my expertise in delivering and evaluating regenerative therapies in traumatic injuries,” explained Dr. Bradbury who has partnered with Dr. Verhaagen since 2013. “Together, we can perform essential pre-clinical studies needed to establish a safe and effective chondroitinase gene therapy with the potential for recovering vital functions such as use of the hands. Organizations such as the Travis Roy Foundation and Wings for Life understand the importance and necessity of scientific collaboration for making transformative advances that will lead to new effective treatments for spinal cord injury,” she continued.

“For 16 years, Wings for Life has been dedicated to finding and funding the necessary research to unlock the mysteries of paralysis from spinal cord injury,” said Anita Gerhardter, President of the board at Wings for Life.  “These injuries, which happen to people of all walks of life in many different types of tragic accidents, severely change the lives of the injured and their families.  Thanks to the collaborative efforts of research scientists like Dr. Verhaagen and Dr. Bradbury, we will one day be able to provide real solutions for paraplegics and quadriplegics. We are pleased to have partners like the Travis Roy Foundation on our journey.” continued Ms. Gerhardter.

Wings for Life was inspired by the tragic motorcycle accident that left Hannes Kinigadner, son of two-time motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner, a tetraplegic.  In the wake of this accident, Heinz Kinigadner and his friend and the founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, started Wings for Life with the purpose of finding a cure for everyone affected by these dreadful injuries.

“Thanks to our very generous donors – hockey players, WIFFLE ball teams, runners and general supporters – the Travis Roy Foundation is pleased to be able to work with Wings for Life,” said Travis Roy.  “For years, we have wanted to make more of an impact on the world of spinal cord injury research and we know this partnership with Wings for Life will help us do that.”

The grant to Dr. Verhaagen and his lab joins two other multi-year funding relationships that the Travis Roy Foundation has maintained with Harvard’s Dr. Jeffrey Macklis and Columbia’s Dr. Jason Carmel. The Macklis Laboratory at Harvard focuses on understanding and development of the birth and growth of neurons and axons in the central nervous system and spinal cord – the wiring that connects the brain with our muscles and our senses. Columbia’s Dr. Carmel has been a major contributor to the field of using electrical stimulation to activate unused neurons and axons that may not have been damaged in a spinal cord injury to help regain lost motor function.

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About the Travis Roy Foundation

The Travis Roy Foundation (TRF) was established in 1997 as a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of spinal cord injury survivors and their caregivers. Travis Roy launched his namesake foundation a year after surviving a catastrophic injury in his first and only hockey game for Boston University. Since that time, the Boston-based TRF has awarded more than 2,000 Quality of Life grants to individuals across the United States who have experienced a spinal cord injury, helping them lead more independent lives. Simultaneously, the TRF’s research grants fund scientists working tirelessly to find a breakthrough in the world of spinal cord injuries. Funding for the Travis Roy Foundation’s philanthropic efforts comes from individuals, corporations and foundations across North America.

About Wings for Life

Worldwide, millions of people are dependent on a wheelchair after having sustained a spinal cord injury, most often as the result of a traffic accident or a fall. Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation with the single mission to find the cure for spinal cord injury. Since 2004, Wings for Life has funded life-changing research projects and clinical trials around the globe. While the cure is still to be found, steady progress has been made. One hundred percent of donations will help work toward Wings for Life’s ultimate goal.

Contact: Andrew Brownsword (