Experimental method may minimize damage from spinal cord injuries

May 17 2011
Traumatic injuries to the spinal cord are among the most devastating medical conditions. Not only can they result in chronic neck pain or back pain, but they can also severely limit a person's ability to function independently.

Fortunately, there is intense academic and clinical research going on around the world that aims to find innovative ways to treat, or even reverse, the consequences of spinal injuries.

For example, scientists from Rutgers University in New Jersey recently announced that they found a potential new treatment that could promote healing and minimize pain as well as nerve damage following this type of contusion.

The discovery hinges on the knowledge that in the wake of a spinal cord injury the body produces higher amounts of a protein called RhoA, which prevents nerve cell regeneration and tissue healing. In order to counter this process, the researchers came up with a way to block this increase and thus promote healing.

The approach was successfully tested on laboratory rats that were injected with an artificially synthesized molecule that decreases the production of RhoA. It now remains to be seen whether the same effect can be replicated in humans.

For their part, the researchers are optimistic. Martin Grumet, associate director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers and senior author of the study, said that "[the discovery] is exciting because [it] can selectively target the injured tissue and thereby promote healing and reduce pain."

He also emphasized the minimally invasive nature of this method.

Medical data suggest that a quarter of a million Americans are living with the consequences of spinal cord injuries, which may include partial or full paralysis and/or chronic pain symptoms. While spine surgery as well as physical and occupational therapy can help these individuals recover part of their mobility, there are currently no therapeutic methods that would reverse all of the damage.