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The $20m race to find a cure for spinal cord injury

SAMCARFORMER Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt made history last May when he returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and drove a specially modified Corvette around the track – his first laps around a track since a 2000 crash paralysed him.

It was an amazing stunt, but Sam has an even bigger plan: He and his foundation, Conquer Paralysis Now, are setting out to cure paralysis.

“We’ve done a lot of great things with the foundation in the last fourteen years, but ultimately there are still millions of people like me who are still in their chairs and it’s time to change that,” Schmidt said.

The CPN Challenge Program plans to award nearly $20 million dollars in grants and prizes, including a tentative $3 million in business and entrepreneurial awards to be announced later, over the next 10 years.

The first team that can reach unprecedented improvement in every day functions of people living with chronic SCI will win the $10 million grand prize.

Ida Cahill, president and CEO of CPN, said: “We will find a cure for paralysis within the next decade, if not sooner.

“We have a plan and the commitment to make this happen. Through innovative funding and collaboration, we will drive research to help others be able to hug their children and loved ones once again.”

The competition has been designed over the past several years by a world-renowned team of researchers and scientists. The Challenge is divided into three stages of increasing difficulty.

Stage I has been launched with the ambition of providing seed funding to a wide range of non-traditional approaches. Applications are now open, with two grants of $50,000 available for each of the six categories.

One of the most groundbreaking parts of the CPN Challenge will be providing a centralised research platform for scientists from around the world to share both their successes and failures.

By openly sharing failures, the risk of duplicating unsuccessful efforts will be diminished, driving progress in finding a cure even faster.

SAM SCHMIDT broke his neck during a race testing accident on January 6, 2000, while practicing for the season-opening Indy Racing League event at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida. He was 36.

While in hospital in St Louis, Missouri, Sam realised he was one of the lucky ones. He had an incredible support system including his faith, family and the motorsport community.

He also realised he had very good insurance.

Sam vowed that when he was able to leave hospital, he would not forget the less-privileged patients he met.
With help of several of his closest friends, the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation was formed in May 2000 and is still growing and moving ahead.

Schmidt’s desire to beat paralysis drives him daily.

“Since my injury I have learned so much about the tremendous needs of people suffering from spinal cord injuries,” Sam says.

“There are three areas on which I have asked the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation to concentrate its fund-raising efforts. The first is medical research. The second, innovative equipment that can be used for rehabilitation.

“And, third, I want to help people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities by addressing quality of life issues.

“We’re spreading the message that you need to stay in shape and keep working hard, because some type of treatment is going to come!”


New research reveals that almost six million people are living with paralysis in the United States – almost 1.3 million are spinal cord injured. This is about five times the number of people previously assumed, with many millions more throughout the world.
According to information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, having a disability of any kind greatly increases a person’s odds of living in poverty.
Nearly 60% of people with paralysis and over 62% of people with spinal cord injury live in poverty.
Spinal cord injury cost the U.S. health care system $40.5 billion annually.
There are 50,000 wounded or injured soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and many have suffered spinal cord injuries.


50,000 people live with paralysis in the UK and Ireland.
About 1,000 people sustain a spinal cord injury each year in the UK and Ireland.
About 80% of those living with a spinal cord injury are male.
The cost to the nation is estimated at £1 billion per annum.
There are currently no effective treatments for spinal cord injury.

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