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Neurological Disorders Channel
Reported January 9, 2013

Spinal Cord Paralysis: New Hope

BACKGROUND:  Damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves surrounding the spinal canal usually causes permanent changes in body functions below the site of injury.  A traumatic spinal cord injury can come from traumatic blows to the spine that can dislocate, fracture, compress, or crush the vertebrae.  Common causes of a spinal cord injury are falls, acts of violence, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, and sport injuries.  Additional damage can come from bleeding, inflammation, swelling, and fluid accumulation around the spinal cord that has gone untreated.  A non-traumatic spinal cord injury is caused by cancer, arthritis, infections, inflammation, or disc degeneration of the spine. Researchers around the world have high hopes that advances in research will someday make the repair of spinal cord injuries possible.  (Source: webmd.com)

TYPES/SIGNS:  The ability to control the limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on two things: the place of the injury along the spinal cord and the severity.  The lowest part of the spinal cord is referred to as the neurological level of the injury.  The severity is classified as either complete or incomplete.  A complete injury is when almost all sensory and ability to control movement are lost below the spinal cord injury.  Incomplete injury is when some sensory or motor functions below the affected area are lost.  Other names for a spinal cord injury is tetraplegia or quadriplegia, meaning arms, trunk, legs, hands, and pelvic organs are all affected by the injury.  Paraplegia is a paralysis that affects part or all of the trunk, pelvic organs, and legs.  Spinal cord injuries of any kind can result in loss of sensation, movement, bowels, changes in sexual function, difficulty breathing, exaggerated reflex activities, or pain caused by damage to the nerve fibers. (Source: webmd.com) 

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Current treatment options include: medications, immobilization, surgery, and experimental treatments.  There is no cure yet.  Scientists have been trying to find new ways to stop cell death, promote nerve regeneration, and control inflammation.  The FDA just approved a trial to evaluate the safety of Schwann cells.  These cells are responsible for sending electrical signals throughout the nervous system.  They are supportive, adult cells.  They are not stem cells.  Schwann cells have been transplanted into spinal cord injury sites for years.  Researchers know that Schwann cells: produce growth factors, surround axons that lost insulation after injury, produce components of the extracellular matrix, spontaneously enter the spinal cord, are accessible by performing a biopsy of a small nerve in the leg, can be obtained in large numbers through a biopsy, and can be genetically engineered to produce more molecules.  Participants in the FDA trial to evaluate the safety have to be in their “acute” phase (five days after the injury) and will be between 18 and 50 years old.  Twenty-six to forty days after the injury, the patients will be injected with the Schwann cells into the site of injury.  They will receive follow up for one year after surgery to evaluate medical, neurologic status, pain symptoms, and muscle spasticity.  Scientists believe Schwann cells are one component of a multi-faceted cure. (Source: themiamiproject.org)

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