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Swiss science mourns Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve provided much-needed funding for paralysis research Keystone Archive

Swiss scientists seeking a cure for spinal cord injuries have paid tribute to the actor Christopher Reeve, whose Paralysis Foundation co-funds their work.

This content was published on October 12, 2004 - 17:11

Zurich-based neurobiologist Martin Schwab said Reeve - who died at the weekend - had done much to promote research into paralysis, and his death would be a loss to the scientific community.

The director of Zurich University’s Brain Research Institute told swissinfo research was now at a crucial juncture and must continue in order to give hope to those suffering paralysis.

And he said he was confident that the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF) would continue to fund the Brain Research Institute to the tune of $260,000 (SFr327,000) per year.

Clinical trials

“It’s very important that this type of research progresses,” Schwab said. “We have made very big progress in the past couple of years – not only my lab, but many of the labs involved in spinal cord research.”

In the late 1980s Schwab discovered the reason why damage to the spinal cord was always permanent: two proteins inhibited regeneration of the damaged tissue. In 1994 he pioneered nerve cell regeneration on paralysed rats, after treating them with an antibody that acted against the proteins.

Schwab said there were now “high hopes” that the antibody treatment could be extended to humans.

“We are relatively close to the first clinical trials in paraplegic patients,” he said, adding that trials would initially be conducted on the recently paralysed before being extended to those with a longer-term injury.

Superman

Reeve – star of the 1978 blockbuster “Superman” – was paralysed from the neck down in a riding accident in 1995.

Schwab was in regular touch with the actor from 1996, when the Swiss scientist was awarded the first Christopher Reeve Research Medal for work on spinal cord repair.

He said that from that point on, Reeve always showed a great deal of interest in the work being done by neuroscientists in Switzerland.

His death although “not totally unexpected” was nevertheless very sad, Schwab said.

“I think it will be a very big loss to the scientific community, because he was someone who came to scientific meetings and admired science and the enthusiasm of young people working enormously hard to achieve results.”

Schwab said Reeve’s death would also be a loss to those with spinal injuries, many of whom looked up to him because of the very active life he led in spite of his huge disability.

“I always told him ‘you carry the torch’,” Schwab said.

swissinfo, Morven McLean

In brief

Christopher Reeve, star of “Superman”, has died aged 52.

He was paralysed in a riding accident in 1995.

He was instrumental in the creation of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation in 1999.

Martin Schwab was awarded the first Christopher Reeve Research Medal in 1996 for his work on treating spinal injuries in rats.

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