Spinal Cord Treatment Breakthrough at UR

Published: July 28, 2004
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Evan Dawson (Rochester, NY) 07/.29/04 – The potential now exists of a drug that could prevent paralysis–even after a major spinal cord injury.

On the scale of medical breakthroughs–the relevant discovery made by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center–could the most important in years.

Right now, no medical treatment exists that would immediately help with a spinal injury.

Gene Spinning damaged his spinal cord 35 years ago. He remembers the most vital hours, those immediately following his injury.

Spinning said, “Not knowing what the future held, that’s the scary thing about it. You don’t know whether you have permanent paralysis, whether it will stay at the same level or go back down.”

As is often the case with spinal cord injuries, Spinning’s condition worsened. Within days the feeling left his legs and never returned.

Now there is new hope that doctors will be able to control the spinal cord damage in future accidents.

At The University of Rochester Medical Center Dr. Maiken Nedergaard’s team tried a new approach with rats. They blocked a molecule that causes paralysis immediately after an injury.

Nedergaard said, “It was very exciting because we could actually tell each rat that got the treatment…it was working.”

Now Dr. Nedergaard will try to find an existing drug that can perform the treatment on human injury victims.

If doctors can administer the drug quickly enough, it could save the victim’s ability to walk, or at least improve a patient’s chances of successful Rehabilitation.

It is likely that finding that drug and having it approved would take at least five years.

Nedergaard said, “You don’t have the patience to wait. You want to go out and treat, but obviously there are concerns…it’s very frustrating.”

For Gene Spinning, this kind of breakthrough is too late to give him his legs back, but he hopes it will prevent paralysis for others.

“They’re touching on the right things,” said Spinning. “There are things coming out all the time that show they’re closer and closer.”

With most spinal cord injuries, the initial injury only causes part of the damage. Much of the permanent damage comes in the next several hours or several days.

That’s because there is no medical treatment to prevent the injury from swelling and becoming worse.

This breakthrough can’t fix the initial injury, but if it can stop the spinal cord damage from worsening, it could possibly save someone’s ability to walk again.

© 2004 Clear Channel Communications