ISCoS 2021 Highlights

At the end of September, members of the Spinal Research Institute team attended the 60th International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) Annual Scientific Meeting. As we did last year, the ISCoS community met online using a virtual conference platform. Our CEO, Kristine Hendry, and International Research Collaborations Manager, Emma Peleg, share their highlights.

The ISCoS conference brings together an international field of interdisciplinary researchers, clinicians, and people with lived experience of spinal cord injury (SCI), who are involved in prevention, research, management and rehabilitation of SCI. Over 600 delegates from 63 countries attended the virtual conference this year. Of these, 29 were recipients of SRI Collaboration Grants and we look forward to sharing their conference experiences with you in future newsletters. The conference program included more than 220 virtual posters and four days of keynote lectures, instructional courses, workshops, presentations, networking, and celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the first ISCoS Annual Scientific Meeting. Below are some of our conference highlights.

The instructional course presented by Dr Colleen O’Connell, Prof James Middleton, Dr Mohit Arora, Stephen Muldoon and Eric Weerts – Global initiatives in SCI: building and sustaining health system capacities – gave insight into the important work of the ISCoS External Relations Committee, which liaises with the World Health Organisation (WHO), ISCoS affiliated societies, Humanity & Inclusion and the International Society of Physical & Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM). The WHO Global Disability Action Plan (2014-2021) recognised the importance of rehabilitation as a core health service and in 2017 launched Rehabilitation 2030: A Call For Action. The WHO-ISCoS workplan (2020-2022) focuses on developing: 1) an SCI Service Module – a practical resource/toolkit to strengthen SCI services in low and middle income countries; 2) a Package of Interventions for Rehabilitation (PIR) – information on evidence-based interventions for SCI rehabilitation, along with resources to plan, budget and integrate rehabilitation services into health systems; and 3) a Rehabilitation Competency Framework (RCF) for development of knowledge, skills and behaviours. The RCF aligns to the ISCoS Education Program, which provides educational resources, conferences, regional symposia and national workshops. Resources include, a web-based education and teaching platform with 60,000 users, 250,000 site visits over 3 years, and content in 7 languages, and the SCI MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). These wide-ranging global initiatives also include humanitarian efforts to develop SCI-specialist Emergency Management Team response standards for natural disasters and conflicts.

Dr Sophie Jörgensen, Lund University, Sweden, presented her recently published research on Sense of coherence (SOC) and changes over six years among older adults aging with long-term spinal cord injury. Coherence is a measure of comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness, which all facilitate adjustment and acceptance and the importance for successful adaptation after SCI. Dr Jörgensen’s research studied those living with SCI around 50+ years old and 10 years post injury and consisted of home interviews. The interview used a 13-item sense of coherence scale. It looked at SOC scores, marital status, vocational situation, bowel issues, bladder issues, pain and spasticity. Results highlighted that while secondary health conditions may increase over time, stability in marital and vocational status led to strong SOC. It found long-term disability was no barrier to close personal relationships and that social context is important for successful adaptation over time. A high SOC score meant a strong ability to understand, handle and be motivated when dealing with issues arising as a result of their disability.

Adam Velenosi, Biobank Program Manager, spoke about Establishing the world’s first international, poly-user SCI biobank. The International Spinal Cord Injury Biobank (ISCIB) was established by a multidisciplinary team based out of ICORD – International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries – in Canada in 2019 and contains over 32,000 blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples and over 700 spinal cord tissue samples. All biospecimens are available to researchers internationally, provided they have ethical approval for research on human biospecimens and the research is to improve understanding of SCI and the spine. To date, the biospecimens have helped support 17 research projects, which have produced three peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Joost Baardman, De Hoogstraat Rehabilitation, Netherlands, presented his work Making a Mixed Reality e-learning module for patients with SCI. Consequences of SCI are complex, and patient knowledge is essential for long-term health. Joost and his team have created a Mixed Reality e-learning module to visually strengthen patient education. A 3D model (hologram) of nerves and muscles is used to visualise the injury and can be tailored to the cause, level and completeness of a person’s SCI. The e-learning module can be operated by hand (also while wearing wheelchair gloves), upper limb orthoses, eye or voice control. The module explains (with written text and voiceover) and shows the consequences associated for each bodily system with cause, level and completeness of injury. The use of the e-learning module in inpatient rehabilitation is currently being evaluated in a clinical study. You can watch a demo of the Mixed Reality e-learning module here.

Of course, the biggest highlight for the SRI was our opportunity to co-present two workshops with our international collaborators. The SRI’s Consumer Engagement Lead, Antonio Vecchio, co-presented Knowledge Translation in SCI Research: Gaps and Bridges and Establishing Consumer Engagement Programs and the impact for SCI research organisations. You can read about the workshops and Antonio’s experiences of ISCoS here.

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