The last six months have seen big advances, even bigger claims and some frenzied media attention for SCI research…
In October was the news that Darek Fidyka, a complete paraplegic, was walking again after receiving an olfactory ensheathing glial cell transplant. University College London (UCL)’s Prof Geoffrey Raisman and colleagues from Poland had treated Darek with nerve tissue grafts and cells cultured from his olfactory bulb (found at the back of the nose). After 19 months, he was able to take steps when supporting himself with a walking frame! This is highly encouraging though Darek’s injury was unusual—a knife wound, in his case a ‘clean’ break. The team plans to treat another 10 people and the results of this trial will be eagerly awaited. (Read more. | Full paper Open access link.)
At the recent Working2Walk Symposium in Canada, Prof Reggie Edgerton, who co-pioneered the treatment, presented some further advances in this ‘neuromodulation’ field. (View video of presentation) In addition to an implanted epidural stimulator, he is now developing a new non-invasive transcutaneous (through the skin) stimulator that could soon be ready for market. Prof Edgerton’s team has also been working on electrical stimulation aimed at the upper limbs and spoke very briefly about five tetraplegics gaining some return of hand function.
Prof Edgerton’s lab is also hoping to return hand control by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin within the spinal cord using a serotonergic agonist. They hope this will open communication pathways that cells ordinarily wouldn’t recognise thus restoring some function.(Uncontrolled serotonin release after injury is thought to be responsible for the muscle spasm that can be so debilitating in those with a high level SCI. Also, it is thought that an interaction between nitrogen intake and serotonin may be responsible for the improvements experienced by paralysed scuba divers).
“The cure for paralysis is almost here, and when we get there it won’t be a miracle, it will be because we worked!” – Kate Willette, author
Another drug that has shown favourable results in the lab is chondroitinase: an enzyme which helps to dissolve scar tissue around the injury. A clinical trial has now started in Iowa, USA treating spinal cord injured dogs and a team from Cambridge UK has been given funding to develop a engineered chondroitinase suitable to test in humans.
Cure-related clinical trials testing promising treatments in people are also progressing. Over a dozen trials are now in progress around the world testing a great range of approaches including stem cells, Schwann cells, umbilical cord cells, neuro-spinal scaffolds and various drug therapies—some in acute cases and some for chronic injuries. Combined, these trials will enrol over 1000 people. One common feature shared by several trials is the intense post-treatment exercise programs that patients follow. (For an interactive map listing SCI related trials see: www.curemap.org )
While all this research holds such great promise it is incredibly disappointing to note that federal government investment in science has reached a 30-year low. Now more than ever our scientists are relying on SpinalCure supporters and the community to help maintain the valuable Australian contribution to the global drive towards a cure for paralysis.