The ground-breaking Conquer Paralysis Now (CPN) Challenge aims to accelerate treatments for people suffering from spinal cord injury (SCI). With a total prize fund of up to $20M, the grand prize of $10M will go to the first team that can reach unprecedented improvement in functions of people living with chronic SCI. The program consists of 3 stages, and the first stage has just opened for applications. It aims to fund unconventional, risky ideas that would not receive grants from traditional sources, and 12 grants of at least $50,000 are available in each of our 6 different categories. We recently spoke with CPN’s CEO Ida Cahill about the motivations behind this grand challenge.
Hi Ida, thanks for joining us today. To start, could you tell us a bit about Conquer Paralysis Now, and how it got started?
CPN actually started in 2000 as The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. Sam is a former Indy race-car driver who sustained a spinal cord injury during a practice session in January 2000. While he was in the rehabilitation hospital he realized that he was more fortunate than most people because not only did he have a loving family and a wonderful network of friends, but he had very good insurance. He made the decision, along with a few of his closest friends, to start the Foundation and fund research in the hope of finding a cure. In May 2014, Sam and the Board decided to change the name to Conquer Paralysis Now as the name better reflects the mission and vision of the Foundation.
Why did CPN decided to run a grand challenge on Spinal Cord Injury?
Like many organizations, CPN had been funding spinal cord injury research for quite a few years but were not seeing enough progress in translating the research from animal models to humans. It’s not that researchers are not dedicated or committed because they most certainly are. However, there seems to be a lack of collaboration which is not easily attainable. Researchers with innovative ideas were unable to find funding and funding continues to be a problem. CPN decided to take a bold approach as it became clear a paradigm shift was needed to reward and accelerate scientific progress. In 2012 an international team of researchers meticulously defined the term “cure” and identified milestones for its achievement. A comprehensive plan to incentivize the world’s leading scientists and entrepreneurs was developed … the CPN Challenge.
And how would you respond to those who believe that it is too ambitious to think we can restore functions of people suffering from chronic paralysis?
We firmly believe it can happen but also recognize that one person cannot achieve it. CPN supports innovative research and the belief that due to the complex nature of paralysis, a combination of various approaches are needed to offer the best chances of success. Research teams need to share breakthroughs as well as failures openly. Collaboration between unlikely partners in fields like engineering, biology and business will be a critical part of the endeavor. However currently many novel ideas never get off the ground because they lack the initial data needed to win traditional research grants, which is why CPN launched the CPN Challenge.
How is the Challenge structured and why do you feel crowdsourcing has the potential to source advances in this area where more traditional innovation strategies have not?
The CPN Challenge redefines the way we think about research funding and creates a new bold model for scientific advancement and discovery. The model encourages cooperation between multiple fields, recognizes failure as part of progress and rewards results rather than “good intentions”. The Challenge will award up to $20 million in total grants and prizes over a ten-year period. This results-oriented initiative will be executed in three distinct stages representing increased complexity of development and knowledge transfer among researchers at each level. Together these stages guide the scientific community towards the final stage which is functional recovery. Throughout history, prizes have been used to solve pressing problems. After losing an entire fleet in the North Atlantic, Great Britain offered a prize to the first person who was able to measure longitude. It wasn’t Sir Isaac Newton but a clockmaker who solved the problem. Charles Lindbergh flew from New Jersey in the U.S. to Paris, France for a $25,000 prize. From that flight and certainly not overnight an entire airline industry resulted. Our goal is to tap into the minds of innovative people who may have never been involved with spinal cord injury research and to look at this problem through a new and different lens.
For our scientific researchers, you’re currently accepting submissions for the year 1 awards. How can readers who are not researchers, but still care about SCI, help out?
I would encourage people to visit our website www.conquerparalysisnow.org to learn more about the CPN Challenge, hear from our CPN Champions and sign up to receive our newsletters. Hopefully they will feel the excitement we feel when we consider the millions of spinal cord injured people around the world who we will help. This includes the many men and women in the armed forces who have sacrificed so much. Imagine helping a mom or dad to be able to once again hug their loved ones, their children, pet their dog or cat …. Wouldn’t they want to be part of this? I certainly do.
Any final words of advice or guidance for people looking to enter the Challenge?
No idea is too audacious to be considered. It will take many minds and many ideas to solve this very complex problem. We don’t care what methodology or what science you use. We encourage you to collaborate with people from other fields. Think out of the box, be bold and accept our challenge to find a cure. The cutoff for applications for Stage I is April 1st, 2015 so consider applying now.