Kate WilletteHow does spinal cord injury research get paid for? It’s an issue I’ve been trying to understand for the better part of two decades.

Fourteen years ago, I went to a conference in Washington, D.C., that was advertised as a gathering of spinal cord injury research scientists and people living in chairs. I was at the conference, called Working2Walk, because I wanted to understand whether there was any chance of healing my husband who had been injured four years earlier — and more importantly, what I could do to help make it happen. It was a heady time. Just a few years earlier a team in Wisconsin had managed to isolate human stem cells for the first time, and the promise of cures seemed real.

One moment that stands out from that weekend is sitting in a breakout room filled with tables that were too low for people in chairs. Those of us who could had moved furniture around so that as many people as possible could squeeze in. Dr. Hans Keirstead had come from California to talk about his research. I remember him: fit, tanned and casual in blue jeans and an open-collared, untucked white shirt, describing his work with cells and mice, and how exactly that work would one day lead to better outcomes for people with spinal cord injuries.

My goal here is not to review what happened with those cells and that science. I want instead to focus on something else Keirstead discussed that day. I wrote it into my journal: “The res