UCF Creates Cells that Brain Uses to Control Muscles

Pic courtesy of Secondary Break.

Scientists at the University of Central Florida have done something amazing. They have taken stem cells and used them to grow the neuromuscular junctions that connect muscle cells to spinal cord cells. These junctions are what brain uses to communicate with and control the muscles of the body. These cells could have a direct impact on the treatment of conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease and spinal cord injury. Further, they are a pivotal step toward the development of “human-on-a-chip” technology. By artificially mimicking human functioning, this technology could shorten the decade or so it takes new drugs to make their way through animal and patient trials and earn FDA approval. This would help all of us, bringing us the most cutting-edge treatments faster. Congratulations UCF!!

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Happy 50th Birthday, USAID!!

We’re about a week late on this, but we’d like to send our warmest (belated) birthday wishes to the United States Agency for International Development! The White House issued a proclamation on November 21st to honor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the agency, better known as USAID. As the proclamation puts it:

In the past five decades, USAID has helped developing countries across the globe transform into stable and prosperous nations, vibrant trading partners, and foreign assistance donors themselves. These countries stand as beacons of hope for people striving toward democracy, free economies, and respect for human rights. The critical work of USAID enables these transitions forward, helping prevent and end conflict around the world.

The full text is available here, and definitely worth a look. USAID has achieved much in its half century of existence and we know it will continue to pursuing its mission with vigor for years to come. We at BlazeSports are proud of our continued partnership with USAID, a partnership that is helping us to help people in Haiti, Jordan, and Russia.

Happy Birthday, USAID! May you have many more!

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Dutch Paralympian Regains Use of Legs, Sets Sights on Olympics

Monique van der Vorst.

Monique van der Vorst lost the use of her legs during an ankle surgery in her early teens. Like her Paralympian comrades from around the world, she didn’t let this disability keep her from achieving big things. Van der Vorst took home two silver medals in handcycling at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, and then last year, something strange happened. After she crashed during a training session, she started to get feeling back in her legs. Eventually she was able to walk again, and she recently signed with Rabobank, a top able-bodied women’s cycling team. Van der Vorst has now set her sights on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

As happy as I am for Monique, I find it troubling that athletes with disabilities only get their due when they cross over to compete against athletes without disabilities. Oscar Pistorius, Marla Runyan, Anthony Robles, and Monique van der Vorst are all incredible, top-notch competitors, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The world of disability sport is jam-packed with talent, and for a variety of reasons, most athletes with disabilities will never get the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with their able-bodied counterparts. These athletes deserve publicity, too, but they rarely get it.

Maybe competitors like Monique can help remedy this problem. Whenever she shows that she is as good as any cyclist who never experienced a disability, she makes people question whether she was any less of a competitor when she lacked the use of her legs. Over the long haul, hopefully she’ll help to open up the space for athletes with disabilities to enter the public stage whether or not they compete against those without disabilities.

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BlazeSports gives thanks for all our blessings…

BlazeSports America has experienced a very successful year and for that we are very thankful.

We wish to thank all those that have supported us by participating in our many programs in Georgia, around the country and internationally. We wish to thank those individuals that have donated their money or time to support what we do. We wish to thank those that have partnered with us in providing highly effective, state-of-the art programs that are truly making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. We wish to thank those agencies and organizations that have found our programs to be compelling and life changing and provided us with the funds necessary to do what we do to empower people with disabilities through sport and physical activity all over the world.

We hope this day finds you well and prospering. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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WSJ Points to Troubling Problems in Social Security’s Handling of Disability Claims

Neil Novin, one of the doctors who told the Wall Street Journal that he believes the Social Security Administration is rushing disability decisions.

Efficiency is a good thing. We all want more for less. However, sometimes the pursuit of efficiency comes at too high a cost. This appears to be what is happening in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) treatment of disability cases. According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent shift in procedure at the SSA now has the doctors who review disability claims paid $80 per case rather than the previous rate of $90 per hour. When cases take an average of 60 to 90 minutes to adequately review, this encourages doctors to cut corners in order to make up for the lost income. Rodrigo Toro, a neurologist who quit after the changes, said, “The implication there was that you really didn’t have to be that careful and study the whole thing.”

With 45 of the 140 doctors who review the cases either quitting or being fired in the wake of the policy shift, the problem of doctors assessing claims outside of their specialty has been exacerbated. Eye doctors are reviewing back pain cases and dermatologists are looking at the claims of stroke victims. Many of the doctors interviewed in the article believe that this is causing some claimants to receive benefits that they don’t deserve while other individuals who are entitled to disability are not receiving it.

The backlog of cases has indeed been reduced by the new policy, but we have to ask “at what cost?” It doesn’t help the bottom-line if money is being squandered on faulty claims, and overlooking legitimate claims defeats the purpose of providing disability benefits in the first place. We’re glad the WSJ has brought these issues to light, and hopefully these prods those with the power to make change to step up and do so.

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Anthony Hughes Wins Sport Wales Coach of the Year Award

Welsh flag, courtesy of Mary Kate.

It’s cool when organizations like ESPN recognize competitors with disabilities with their own award categories, but it’s even cooler when groups like Sport Wales recognize these achievements in categories that are also open to people without disabilities. This year, Sport Wales gave its Coach of the Year Award to Anthony Hughes. Himself a chair-user, Hughes is a renowned athletics coach, founder of the Disability Sport Wales Academy, and mentor to such star athletes as Nathan Stephens and Aledsion Davies.

Separate categories for competitors with disabilities help to shine a spotlight on underappreciated competitors. (Hughes, it should be noted, also took home the award for Coach to Disabled Performers.) However, organizations frequently think they’ve fulfilled their duty to equality simply by establishing these categories. No matter the scale of a his or her achievements, it is highly unusual to see an athlete or coach with a disability win an award over an athlete without one. This is a problem that needs to be remedied, and so we’d like to congratulate both Hughes for his achievements and Sport Wales for stepping up to recognize them.

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Minneapolis Theater Runs Disability-themed Festival

Pic courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Something special is going on at the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis. Running through November 27th, the theater is showing the “Center of the Margins Festival” focusing on disability issues. The festival contains three plays, one each involving characters with cerebral palsy, deafness, and autism. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune gave the festival a mostly positive review, and it’s great to see artists with a vision wide enough to explore topics concerning disability. It’s even greater, though, that they casted actors with disabilities to play the characters. As cool as it is when shows like Glee show a student in a wheelchair, it’s all too common to fill roles like Artie Abrams with actors without disabilities like Kevin McHale, thereby further curtailing that already limited pool of roles for actors with disabilities.

I haven’t seen the plays so I can’t make any judgments about the insight and sensitivity they demonstrate, but from what I’ve read, it sounds like a good show. If you’re in Minneapolis, grab some tickets, see the show, and let us know how it goes!

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