This year our main ESG (environmental, social and governance) partner, Wings for Life, reaches the grand old age of 13 years. Hexagon employees have been supporting Wings for Life for 9 of those years (see the gallery at the end of this blog for some highlights from the past 9 years).
In the past decade, Wings for Life has raised 38.3 million euros for spinal injury research, helping fund 276 projects. It’s a fantastic charity that is literally changing lives and there’s still time for you to join in this year. Read on to find out how.
Spinal injury can happen to anyone. It often occurs after a trip, a fall or a sporting or motor car accident and the effect is lifechanging. Suddenly the messages the brain sends to the muscles in the body cannot reach their destination. In less severe cases, some nerve communication is possible – meaning that the patient retains some sensation and some muscle control. Sadly, 50% of cases result in complete paralysis. But there is hope in sight.
Wings for Life have stopped asking “if” we will find a cure, but “when”…
In case you don’t already know what Wings for Life is (where have you been?), it’s the world’s biggest running race – by quite a margin. In 2021 over 160,000 people took part, in 192 countries, all running at the same time, day or night, rain or shine.
Those figures are only possible because of the unique way this race is set up. It takes place with one foot in the real world and one in the metaverse. This is an event that transcends international borders. It blurs the distinction between the physical and the virtual, connecting hundreds of thousands of people across the planet with the power of technology.
It’s difficult to think of a more suitable partner for a company like Hexagon.
There’s no fixed start or finish line. You begin from wherever you happen to be and run wherever your fancy takes you. Meanwhile your opponent exists in the metaverse only. Regardless of your physical location, all the runners have one shared opponent, the catcher car. You get a 30-minute head start and then the chase begins. As the catcher car approaches, you’ll get warnings via your smartphone, and when it overtakes you, your race is over.
The great thing about this is that anyone can take part regardless of your physical location or your level of ability. Over the 9 years we’ve been supporting Wings for Life, Hexagon employees have put in a brilliant effort and we’ve got the photos to prove it. So many of us have found the time to train, to find sponsors and to get out there and run. We’ve even had motivational team talks over zoom. This is an event that brings people together, one that breaks down barriers, and helps create lasting change. That’s exactly what science, engineering and technology should do.
Running for those that can’t
Wings for Life is currently sponsoring 74 active research projects around the world and they’ve taken on 16 new projects since 2022. But they don’t part with the money easily, they have a strict selection procedure and the focus is on regeneration of the spinal cord, reconstruction and addressing secondary damage.
Some of the most exciting research is going on in the University of Texas. Professor Michael Kilgard is working on cutting edge techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve with electrical impulses. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the abdomen and it helps regulate the autonomic nervous system.
Stimulating this nerve helps to boost healing after spinal cord injury and enhances the recovery of motor function. Early results are encouraging. In some cases, it might help injured people regain some use of their hands.
Even more exciting is the work of Grégoire Courtine at the in École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. A recent article in Engineering and Technology described him as “The neuroscientist changing the meaning of spinal cord injury”.
The neuroscientist changing the meaning of spinal cord injury
Grégoire’s pioneering work has given us a way to amplify the brain signals so that they can pass through the injured area of the spine. He has demonstrated how targeted electrical stimulations can help paralysed people regain the use of their muscles, even after years in a wheelchair. The really astonishing achievement was that his techniques also stimulated a natural regeneration of nerve fibers.
According to Engineering and Technology magazine:
“After the initial treatment… nerves grew spontaneously, bypassing the damaged tissue to carry electrical signals between the brain the spinal cord. This allowed the patients to regain control of previously paralysed muscles even when the stimulation was switched off.”
We’ve got a long way to go before the terrible effects of spinal cord injury can be completely healed, but one thing is certain: Wings for Life will not stop until we get there, and you can help make that journey faster by running for those that can’t. Register for the Wings for Life run now and help fund these life changing research projects, and many more like them.
Visit the Wings for Life website for more details including how to take part. This year’s Wings for Life run will take place May 7, 12.00 GMT.