Spinal cord injuries are among the most physically and financially devastating medical conditions a person may experience. And, to date, there are no permanent solutions for treatment. With approximately 276,000 individuals currently dealing with this debilitating condition throughout the United States, it’s a pressing research topic for medical professionals.
These injuries often lead to irreversible loss of strength, sensation and other critical functions after damage to the spinal cord or related nerves. Moreover, the medical costs to care for patients suffering from spinal cord injuries are considerable, extending to more than $1 million during the first year (and roughly $185,000 each subsequent year). Thankfully, the medical community is actively working on finding a better solution for victims.
Here are a few of the latest medical advancements for spinal cord injuries.
Spinal Cord Injury Medical Advancements
- A research group at VU University in Amsterdam led by Dr. Nadia Dominici has been making headway with an ongoing study centering on the brain patterns in human babies and infant animals during the first stages of walking. This early behavior -- which is remarkably similar among different animals and babies -- sets the stage for what the team is calling the “primitive stepping reflex,” and hopes are high that research uncovers a common ancestral neural network that could be used to unlock the key to improving rehabilitation and mobility for patients with spinal cord injuries as well as children suffering from cerebral palsy. Early results have been promising, as it has already been proven that neural primitives can improve walking in some animal test subjects. Featured at the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) Annual Meeting in early July 2016, this project is poised to enter next steps for practical application on patients.
- In late May 2016, it was reported that an experimental trial at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has yielded positive results for a group of patients suffering severe spinal cord injuries. This particular approach involved the injection of stem cells into the damaged areas, with the goal of restoring function and movement. In particular, one patient -- a quadriplegic who was not expected to be able to walk again after a devastating car accident -- has begun regaining sensation and movement in his legs and hips. Thus far, four out of the six patients involved in the study have already demonstrated signs of improvement. Naturally, more research is needed, but the results are certainly encouraging.
- An exciting research study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in late 2015 has seen quadriplegics regain some hand and arm movement after spinal cord injuries impacted their lower necks. The procedure involves the rerouting of patients’ nerves so that healthy nerves are connected to their damaged counterparts, resulting in improved neural communication throughout the body. Impressively, it can be performed just hours after the injury has taken place and allows for patients to be released after a single night of recovery from the four-hour surgery. Of course, extensive physical therapy is still required to train the brain to recognize the new nerve networks, but the psychological benefit that even a modicum of improvement has had on patients has already proven invaluable. Expect more on this one in the near future.
- At the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, an FDA-approved anti-cancer drug called epothilone B represents a promising new treatment for spinal cord injuries, as reported in early 2015. Although the research is still in early stages, it has demonstrated cell regeneration in rodents with spinal cord injuries, leading to improvements in motor skills such as balance and coordination. Oftentimes, scar tissue and other factors restrict the body’s ability to self-repair at the site of injury. As it stands, this particular therapy requires too many different treatments to justify a valid clinical approach. However, the team seeks to continue its research into how effective the drug may be in combatting different types of injury.
Promise of a Better Future
Although there is still a ton of work to be done, the medical research being done to combat spinal cord injuries represents positive momentum that bodes well for those who have suffered from such an injury. With so many ongoing studies in the works, chances are that a breakthrough is imminent, and individuals affected by such an incident have good reason to be optimistic about their potential for recovery. In the meantime, we can only express our hope that patients afflicted by a spinal cord injury remain vigilant regarding the latest developments and resolute in their desire to improve the quality of their lives.
Written by Robert Yaniz Jr.Robert Yaniz Jr. has been a professional writer for more than a decade, including print and online publishing. His experience includes writing various materials for the marketing communications department of a global law firm.
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