n COLUMBUS, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—People who are paralyzed after a spinal cord injury are at higher risk for other life-threatening health problems. Depending upon the location and severity of the injury, life expectancy can be shortened by years or even decades. Researchers are studying a widely prescribed pain relief drug to see if it can block harmful changes in an injured person’s system.
A violent crash, a fall, or a sports accident. When someone is paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, there are also changes happening inside the autonomic nerve centers, putting the body into an uncontrolled state of flight or fight.
“These problems can predispose individuals living with spinal cord injuries, to things like heart attack and stroke and infections like pneumonia,” explained Faith Brennan, PhD, a research scientist at The Ohio State University.
Now, scientists at The Ohio State University are testing the FDA approved pain relief drug gabapentin to see if it can halt the damaging changes in spinal cord injury patients. The researchers tested the drug in mice and found that even one month after they stopped treatment, the benefits remained.
“Giving gabapentin early prevents these structural changes from happening. And as a result, we see reduced cardiovascular problems and also less immune suppression,” illustrated Brennan.
Researchers say because the drug is already FDA approved to treat neuropathic pain, it could more easily be repurposed for patients with spinal cord injury.
The researchers are now working to determine how long treatment with gabapentin can be delayed after an injury and still benefit patients.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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TOPIC: LIFE-SAVING TREATMENT FOR SPINAL CORD INJURY PATIENTS?
REPORT: MB #4902
BACKGROUND: A spinal cord injury is damage done to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal, also called the cauda equina. It often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. The ability to control limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on two factors: the place of the injury along the spinal cord and the severity of injury to the spinal cord. The lowest normal part of the spinal cord is referred to as the neurological level of an injury. The severity of the injury is often called “the completeness” and is classified as either of the following: complete, when all sensory feeling and all ability to control movement, or motor function, are lost below the spinal cord injury, or incomplete, when there is some motor or sensory function below the affected area. There are varying degrees of incomplete injury.
EFFECTS: Faith Brennan, PhD, a research scientist at The Ohio State University explained to Ivanhoe, “The spinal cord relays information between the brain and the body, and this is information that we don’t even think about in terms of things like blood pressure and heart rate. So when you have an SCI, this causes problems for the whole body. And this includes things like deregulated blood pressure, deregulated heart rate, loss of temperature control and systemic immune suppression. These problems can predispose individuals living with spinal cord injuries to things like heart attack and stroke and infections, like pneumonia. These health problems are the leading cause of morbidity and also early hospitalization and early death in this population. So, this is a very real problem that people living with spinal cord injuries face – these health problems caused by deregulation of this autonomic nervous system.”
(Source: Faith Brennan, PhD, Research Scientist, The Ohio State University)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Now, scientists are studying a well-known drug to see if it can be repurposed for spinal cord injury patients. In the study, mice treated with the drug called gabapentin, regained roughly 60 percent of forelimb function in a skilled walking test, compared to restoration of approximately 30 percent of forelimb function in mice that received a placebo. Researchers found that the drug blocks activity of a protein that has a key role in the growth process of axons, the long, slender extensions of nerve cell bodies that transmit messages. The protein stops axon growth at times when synapses form, allowing transmission of information to another nerve cell.
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