Busta benefit raises hope, awareness for spinal cord awareness and research

For more than a decade, in a town in northern Wisconsin, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, you can guarantee that hundreds of people gather around one cause: finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

The David Busta Basketball Tournament and Silent Auction has raised nearly $400,000 in 12 years to support the research of Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience, Waisman Center investigator, and nationally-recognized stem cell researcher. The tournament and silent auction in Chetek, Wis., is a hub of cheer and friendly competition as teams vie for the title and people bid on items generously donated by the community. On November 29, 2014, the event raised nearly $25,000.

David Busta, BA ’97, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in 2002. With his roots as an UW-Madison alumnus, and knowing the reputation of stem cell therapy research at the Waisman Center, his family decided to share all proceeds from the basketball tournament and silent auction with Zhang’s lab.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of David Busta, his family, and the community who participates in his fundraising efforts,” says Albee Messing, VMD, PhD, interim director of the Waisman Center. “The David Busta Stem Cell Fund at the Waisman Center helps us advance scientific discovery that will one day lead to treatments for spinal cord injuries. We are now closer thanks to David’s generous and ongoing efforts.”

GMR Marketing, where Busta worked in 2002 and continues to consult, also sponsors the annual “Bags for Busta” event each February, which raises more than $10,000 for research.

Zhang’s research focuses on stem cells to treat conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease. His hope is to one day provide treatments and therapies for these conditions. Recent milestones from his research include:

  • Stem cells can be coaxed into spinal motor neurons that relay messages from the brain to the body.
  • The first study that shows human cells can successfully implant in the brain and heal neurological deficits.
  • In 2013, Zhang made a major advancement in ALS research by pinpointing an error in protein formation that could be the root cause of this disease. Stem cell discoveries such as this have the potential to impact treatments and therapies for other conditions that affect motor neurons, such as spinal cord injury.

To support the Waisman Center’ spinal cord research, visit the Waisman Center Giving page.