Potential Treatments Emerging for Chronic Spinal Cord Injuries
WASHINGTON, DC — Research findings suggest possible new approaches to treat chronic spinal cord injuries, which have long been considered untreatable. Scientists report successful efforts to overcome or circumvent seemingly irreparable and long-standing damage at the site of the original injury using a variety of methods, from implantation of early-stage brain cells to brain-machine interface, in which technology allows the brain to communicate directly with an external device such as a motorized wheelchair. These results have the potential to impact millions of people worldwide who suffer from motor deficits caused by spinal cord damage.
The research was presented today at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Worldwide, roughly 250,000 new spinal cord injuries occur each year, and they often cause paralysis below the level of the injury. This increases a person’s risk of secondary medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections, respiratory complications, and clinical depression, which affects about one-fourth of those injured.
Presently, there is no cure for spinal cord injury and conventional treatment is limited to physical therapy. Most treatment strategies under development target recently injured patients rather than patients with long-standing disability.
Today’s new findings show that:
- More than a year after spinal cord injury, injection of a bacterial enzyme that breaks down scar tissue can improve lung function (Philippa Warren, 523.10, see attached summary).
- Long after the initial injury, early-stage nerve cells transplanted into the site of a paralyzing spinal cord injury in rats generate new nerve cells capable of making long-range connections (Ken Kadoya, PhD, 523.28, see attached summary).
- A high-bandwidth brain-machine interface is able to translate brain signals into instructions that allow monkeys to operate a motorized wheelchair (Miguel Nicolelis, MD, 444.02, see attached summary).
- Paraplegic patients can operate a supportive “exoskeleton” that allows them to walk through the use of an advanced brain-machine interface (Miguel Nicolelis, MD, 636.15, see attached summary).
“Today’s findings illustrate the ways that research can harness neuroscience, medicine, and engineering in an effort to overcome the damage caused by spinal cord injuries,” said moderator Oswald Steward, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine, an expert in the molecular repair processes in the central nervous system. “New treatments on the horizon promise to be more effective than traditional rehabilitation practices.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health as well as other private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about spinal cord injury and recovery at BrainFacts.org.