Why we decided to fund the Geoffrey Raisman Fellowship

Professor Geoffrey Raisman (1939 – 2017) was a pioneer and expert in his field who dedicated his life’s work to studying the repair of spinal cord injuries. In 1969 he introduced the term ‘plasticity’ to describe the ability of damaged nerve tissue to form new synaptic connections. This created huge publicity and reaction within the medical community and became the foundation for his later work.

Geoff spent over five decades of his life not only researching but teaching the next generation of scientists. This work took him from Oxford University to London’s National Institute for Medical Research and finally University College London’s Institute of Neurology.

During this time, he has been a great influence on many people around the world. His genuine belief that paralysis from SCI could be cured led him to cross paths with nsif founder David Nicholls, whose young son Daniel had recently sustained a spinal cord injury whilst swimming on Bondi Beach in Australia.

David has often talked about when he first met Geoff how impressed he was by ‘his level of humility and above everything else two things stood out: Firstly, he absolutely believed that paralysis was curable. He always said it will not be science alone, it will be science and surgery together under the right conditions that will make this possible. He was right on both counts. Secondly, he made complex science easy to understand. This was very important to me and a unique gift’.

nsif started funding Geoff and his team, including Professor Ying Li and Dr. Daqing Li, in 2006 and have continued ever since.

Geoff then introduced David to neurosurgeon Dr. Pawel Tabakow, who had himself started to follow Geoff’s research when he was still a medical student at university. It was at this point that David become excited about these two experts collaborating. ‘They had a plan, which I am pleased to say worked with staggering results’.

For some time, the charity and its Trustees have been deliberating how we can best honour Geoff and his huge contribution to the field of SCI research. As Geoff was a firm believer in the importance of encouraging the next generation of scientists it seemed apt to set up and fund a PhD scholarship in his name. As well as funding a top-quality scientist through three years of study, it strengthens the already brilliant UCL team working on the OEC Transplantation Project, led by Professor Ying Li.

The student will be tasked with developing a laboratory model of spinal cord injury, using OECs and biomaterials, to advance our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in SCI and repair for the benefit of patients. Importantly, it will also require the student to publish results and provide research training for future groups of scientists thus continuing Geoff’s scientific legacy.

Geoff felt so passionately about bringing about a cure to spinal injury for all those that need it. Having another talented young scientist to work towards that ultimate goal, while honouring the memory of a great man, is something that we are extremely proud to fund.

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