Recent advancements in the treatment of spinal cord injuries have brought new hope to the more than one million SCI sufferers in the U.S. The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a Center of Excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is currently conducting a clinical study on the safety of transplanting Schwann cells, which are found in the human spinal cord, in the hope that it will cure or significantly improve SCIs. In addition, a new method for quickly diagnosing the severity of spinal cord injuries gives hope for better research, less agony for patients and better treatment options soon after the injury occurs.
The immediate aftermath of a spinal cord injury is the most terrifying for the SCI sufferer and his or her family. Questions regurgitate through the mind: How bad is the damage? Will it prevent the sufferer from ever walking again?
The medical community is well aware of the anguish these questions bring. Fortunately, a new model for prognosticating SCIs, recently published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, may make it feasible to determine how severe a spinal cord injury is earlier than currently common in the medical field — as early as three days after the injury. The new model tests motor skills at admission and uses magnetic resonance imaging scans to predict the long-term outcome of a SCI at an earlier date than previously reliable.
Being able to more quickly predict recovery from a spinal cord injury does more than just get the truth to the patient more quickly. A quick prognosis can give doctors and patients more treatment options.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a clinical trial for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to transplant Schwann cells on human patients. Schwann cells, which are different from stem cells, are found in the peripheral nervous system and are integral to sending electrical signals through the nervous system.
The study will use the patient’s own Schwann cells and inject them into the site of the injury. Researchers will generate millions of Schwann cells over a period of up to five weeks, then surgically implant the cells 26-40 days after the injury.
Once injected, the Schwann cells will form a myelin sheath, a layer around the spinal cord neuron that will re-insulate damaged fibers. The Schwann cells will also encourage regeneration in the affected area. It is hoped the transplanted cells will allow a paralyzed person to regenerate enough cells to walk again.
The total cost to treat spinal cord injuries in the U.S. is approximately $400 billion annually. That figure, while large and of concern, does not include the pain and suffering brought to those with SCI and their families. Fortunately, research on this devastating injury continues and new studies are continually bringing hope to families and SCI sufferers. Anyone who is suffering from a spinal cord injury should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss potential litigation that could help to pay for the many costs associated with this catastrophic injury.