[From the Editor: this piece was written by Sarah Keogh, who is a new member of our legal team. Sarah is a lawyer, who has been advocating for public safety and health for years. We are happy and proud to have Sarah join us. Enjoy and learn from her post on Spinal Cord Injury Updates. We look forward to her future posts here in the Eye Opener - Brian Nash]
Spinal Cord Injury Updates: Sarah Keogh, Esq.
Two new studies are providing spinal cord injury patients with hope for a future treatment and predictions about current recovery.
I recently came across a New York Times video feature called “Patient Voices: Spinal Cord Injury.” In a series of video clips, several men and women talk about their lives following spinal cord injuries. The videos are a wonderful window in the resiliency and trials of individuals with spinal cord injuries.
It was wonderful to see two exciting updates this week that may impact the lives of these individuals and countless others like them who have suffered spinal cord injuries. However, they also raised some questions. The first is a new study that is showing promise for future treatment of spinal cord injuries. The research is still advancing, but it gives hope that stem cells may eventually be used to help repair damage to the spinal cord and provide increased functioning. The second is a new test that can predict, with claimed 95% accuracy, which individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury will ultimately be able to walk again.
Sify News has reported that scientists have discovered “a specific type of human cell” that can “provide tremendous benefit, not only repairing damage to the nervous system but helping the animals regain locomotor function as well.” In a study of rats with spinal cord injuries, the researchers have found that one particular type of human astrocytes, a type of central nervous system cell, “provided extensive benefit, including up to a [70%] increase in protection of injured spinal cord neurons, support for nerve fiber growth and recovery of locomotor function, as measured by a rat’s ability to cross a ladder-like track.” Perhaps equally important, they discovered that other types of astrocytes and undifferentiated stem cells do not work to provide these improvements. The researchers, scientists from both the University of Colorado School of Medicine and University of Rochester Medical Center, have published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE. (ANI).
Until the research advances enough to help provide treatment and improvement to humans with spinal cord injuries, another new study shows that doctors and scientists have worked to better predict which patients who have suffered spinal cord injuries are likely to walk again. The findings will be published in The Lancet. The early abstract online explains that the doctors were able to create a rule for predicting an individual patient’s likelihood of being able to eventually walk again after a spinal cord injury. The “prediction rule” takes into account several factors including the patient’s age and the results from several neurological tests to “give an early prognosis of an individual’s ability to walk after traumatic spinal cord injury, which can be used to set rehabilitation goals and might improve the ability to stratify patients in interventional trials.” The tests needed to predict which patients will walk can be done within 15 days after the spinal cord injury. An article from The Press Association reports that the European scientists who have developed this new “technique was [found it to be] highly accurate, getting the prediction right 95% of the time.” This is significantly better than current methods of guessing what patients may recover the ability to walk.
The question left in my mind, after reading about these advances, relates to the question of optimism. Several of the individuals in the New York Times videos talked about the progress they have made in their recovery. They had goals and hopes for reaching new levels of independence and recovery. If the new prediction tests reveal that a patient has a very poor chance of recovering the ability to walk, will that negatively impact their spirit, drive and mental health in the long road of recovery? The scientific advances seem to be wonderful for the doctors and rehabilitation specialists, but are they equally wonderful for the individuals coping with a new injury who need to adapt to their new lives? Perhaps the continuing research into using stem cells can provide hope for these men, women and children, who need continued hope that a prediction at the time of their injury may not be the last word on their hopes for a more complete recovery.