Research participant uses coughalator

‘Coughalator’ brings hope to spinal cord injury patients

NeuRA researchers have been awarded a share of a $1 million grant from the NSW Government that will enable them refine a technique to enable quadriplegic patients to deliver an effective cough.

The grant, to be shared with scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney, was announced today by the Minister for Science and Medical Research, the Hon Frank Sartor.

Coughing can literally save lives; pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death for people with spinal cord injuries, so keeping the lungs free of secretions is paramount.

“Voluntary control of muscles required for inhalation and forceful exhalation is lost in a spinal cord injury,” said Professor Simon Gandevia, the lead research from NeuRA on this study. “The reduced ability to cough and the build-up of lung secretions increases the risk of pneumonia through the accumulation of bacteria.”

People with high level spinal cord injury (quadriplegics and tetraplegics) are 150 times more likely to die from pneumonia, than other causes, at any time after their injury.

Current therapies for preventing the build-up of secretions in the lungs include suction in patients with tracheostomies and manual assisted coughing using a cough machine, which is very expensive, said Prof Gandevia.