Entries in Spinal Cord Injury (8)


Nose Cell Transplant Reverses Paralysis in Dogs

FogStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) – Thanks to a team of researchers, the secret to reversing paralysis in dogs lies not under their noses, but rather, in them.

Scientists at the Welcome Trust-MRC Stem Cell Institute have concluded that by taking dogs with injured spinal cords and injecting them with cells from their noses, they were able to successfully improve their back leg usage when, at the beginning of the study, these dogs could not use their back legs to walk, and could not feel pain in their back legs.

Biologists were able to avoid the prospect of using stem cells by removing olfactory cells from the linings of the dogs’ noses, and grew them in a Petri dish. These olfactory cells are special because they can envelop cells from the central nervous system that are actually able to regenerate or self-repair, whereas other central nervous system cells are not able to do so.

“Our findings are extremely exciting because they show for the first time that transplanting these types of cell into a severely damaged cord can bring about significant improvement”, said Professor Robin Franklin, regeneration biologist and co-author of the study.

The team conducted the study by taking 34 dogs that were experiencing lower spinal cord injuries, and injected 23 of them with nose cells, giving the rest a placebo. Many of the dogs treated with nose cells showed improvement in coordination between their front and back legs, with a harness present.

While this nose cell treatment advances the path towards finding an effective treatment for human spinal cord injuries, there is still more work to be done. The study showed no improvement in the long nerve connection between the brain and the spinal cord, something necessary in humans for walking, hand and leg control, sexual function, bowel and bladder control, pain sensation, and temperature control.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Paralympics: Spinal Cord Injuries Open Door to 'Boosting'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bryan Kirkland could always spot a booster.  Sweaty arms, shaky legs and "chicken skin" were telltale signs of the dangerous practice, banned from the Paralympics for its performance-enhancing effects.

"All I could do was shake my head," said Kirkland, 41, a Paralympic gold medalist from Leeds, Ala.  "It's so dangerous, and for what: so you can win a race?"

Like blood doping, boosting increases the amount of oxygenated blood circulating in the body.  But instead of using blood transfusions and erythropoietin injections, boosters break their toes, block their catheters and crush their scrotums.

"This practice is very unique to individuals with high-level spinal cord injuries," said Dr. Yagesh Bhambhani, professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, explaining how a spinal cord injury blocks pain signals from the body to the brain.  "An able-bodied person would not be able to do this."

Boosting uses self-inflicted injuries to trigger autonomic dysreflexia, a condition that's considered a medical emergency when it happens by accident.  Although boosters can't feel the pain, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing risky rises in blood pressure.

"If you raise your blood pressure, your heart theoretically pumps more blood. If your heart pumps more blood, you get more oxygen.  And if you get more oxygen, your performance is improved," said Bhambhani, author of a 1994 study that found boosting could improve wheelchair race times by nearly 10 percent.

But boosting is dangerous.  It was banned at the Paralympics in 2004, "not only because it's performance enhancing, but also because it's a huge health risk," according to Craig Spence of the International Paralympic Committee. "We want athletes to play by rules, play fair, and not risk a heart attack or a stroke for a medal."

Spence said athletes are screened for high blood pressure before certain events, like wheelchair racing. But because autonomic dysreflexia can happen unintentionally -- if an athlete is strapped into a chair too tightly, for example -- boosting is difficult to detect.

"If an athlete generally has high blood pressure and has a medical certificate to prove it, we will allow those athletes to compete. But if an athlete is really tense and doesn't have a certificate -- even it's from autonomic dysreflexia -- then they're banned from competing on the grounds it could lead to a heart attack or a stroke," said Spence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Spinal-Cord Injuries: FDA Approves Cell-Regeneration Therapy

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Marc Buoniconti has been paralyzed from the neck down for 27 years after a college football injury at South Carolina's The Citadel.

His Hall of Fame linebacker father, Nick Buoniconti, triumphed on the football field as a Boston Patriot and Miami Dolphin, but finding a cure for his son's paralysis has been the toughest game of all, until now.  

Father and son have seen the fruits of their joint venture -- the Miami Project Cure Paralysis -- to help the 300,000 Americans living with spinal-cord injuries.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the safety of transplanting human Schwann cells to treat patients with paralysis.  It is the first such trial in the world.

Researchers believe these cells, which are found in the peripheral nervous system and are responsible for sending electrical signals, might be the key to eventual cures.

"We believe today's announcement is just as important to our field as man's first step on the moon was to the space program," said neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green, co-founder and chairman of The Miami Project.

Eight patients with acute spinal-cord injuries, or those within one month of paralysis, will be injected with their own Schwann cells as scientists at the University of Miami Medical Center monitor them for side effects.

"I am more optimistic now than I have ever been before," Marc Buoniconti said.

"You see decades of work and scientists have given their lives to neuroscience," he said.  "You see donors and friends giving millions of dollars for years, wanting to see results. ... It will be the culmination of hopes and dreams turned to reality."

Although this first effort at cell-replacement therapy is only a safety trial, Miami Center researchers hope the Schwann cells, which behave like stem cells, will eventually restore function and sensation.

They have already successfully repaired central nervous system injuries in lab animals by transplanting their own Schwann cells to the site of the injury, where they reinsulate damaged nerve cells.

In studies done in rats, mice, pigs and primates, about 70 percent of function and movement was restored to the fully paralyzed animals.

"Not only do [the Schwann cells] survive, they grow and remyelinate, with no toxicity or tumors," Buoniconti said.  "This is a huge stepping stone."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could MS Drug Be an Effective Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- A drug found to slow some of the physical problems and reduce the number of flare-ups of multiple sclerosis (MS) could also show promise for treating spinal cord injuries (SCIs), according to a new Japanese study.

Researchers from the Jichi Medical University School of Medicine and the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine found that FTY720, also known as Gilenya, helped mice with spinal cord injuries recover some motor function when they were given the drug immediately after the injuries.

FTY720 acts in a number of ways, the study authors wrote.  The drug, provided by its manufacturer, Novartis, for this study, suppresses the immune system, which reduces inflammation that occurs after injuries.  Inflammatory effects, they explained, can worsen the damage done by SCIs.  The drug also helped the mice's damaged tissue regenerate, among other effects.

"The main biological activity responsible for these actions is believed to be immunological, but our data suggest that nonimmunological role(s) of FTY720 are also important in the treatment of SCI," they wrote.

The drug still needs to be evaluated in larger animals before determining whether it is effective in treating SCIs, but still has promise, the authors added.

Experts not involved with the study, however, are a bit more skeptical.  Many interventions work in mice, so determining the utility of Gilenya for SCIs in humans is a long way off, if it happens at all.

"Another issue is that in this study, the drug was given immediately after the SCI, and rarely do we have the opportunity to give a drug immediately after this type of injury in humans," said W. Dalton Dietrich, professor and scientific director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.  "One big question is if the drug delivery is delayed, will it work?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Peyton Manning Out for Good? Too Soon to Tell, Doctors Say

Andy Lyons/Gett​y Images(NEW YORK) -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is struggling with a slow recovery after his neck surgery in September and is facing questions about whether he will end his football career. But doctors say a slow recovery is part of the playbook for the type of surgery Manning had.

In September, the four-time MVP had a “single level anterior fusion” procedure, his third operation in 19 months. In the surgery, doctors removed a herniated disc from the spine to alleviate pressure that comes when the disc pushes on spinal nerves. The bulging disc can be painful and can cause weakness in the arms and shoulders.

Once the problem disc has been removed, the bones of the spine should fuse and the nerves should recover. But the process is slow.

In December, ESPN reported that the bones of Manning’s spine had successfully fused. But athletes usually face three to six months of rehabilitation to recover nerve and muscle function, or even longer if they’ve had more extensive nerve damage.

“It’s a waiting game. Nerves grow at about an inch a month, and you have to wait until the muscle is re-innervated and regains its strength,” said Dr. Gerard Varlotta, an associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. “It’s like watching grass grow.”

Varlotta, who treats professional athletes with injuries similar to Manning’s, said while the nerves are regrowing, the muscle they’re trying to reach may become atrophied, making a quarterback like Manning struggle to throw strong passes or grip the ball.

“If there is identified nerve damage, there may be slower progression of return of strength and motor function,” Varlotta said. “For a professional athlete who’s 35 years old, this is a very concerning injury.”

Dr. Mark Knaub, an orthopedic spinal surgeon at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said it’s not uncommon for a full recovery to take up to a year, especially for professional athletes who require optimal strength.

“It’s impossible to know going into it how long it will take. The reality is some people don’t recover it all,” Knaub said. “People may want to hear some definitive decision about whether or not he’ll be able to play, but it may just be too early to tell.”

Eyes in the sports world will be on Manning’s recovery and future with the Colts this weekend as his brother Eli, quarterback for the New York Giants, visits the Colts’ home stadium to take on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman to Marry One Year After Being Paralyzed at Bachelorette Party

Ciaran Griffin/Thinkstock(PITTSBORO, N.C.) -- Rachelle Friedman is finally getting her day in white.

The paralyzed bride-to-be who was left wheelchair bound last year after a freak accident at her bachelorette party will be married this weekend to her fiance, Chris Chapman, in North Carolina.

"It was my dream and it is my dream to marry Chris," Friedman, 25, told ABC News Monday. "This is the one thing I wasn't able to have for so long and now I can have it."

"It's a huge deal. It was so close and then it just fell out of my grasp," said Friedman.

In August 2010, Friedman was left unable to walk and unable to feel sensation beneath her collarbone after she was pushed into a pool by one of her bridesmaids, a joke the group of girls frequently played on one another.

She hit her head on the bottom of the pool and doctors later confirmed that she had suffered a C6 spinal cord injury.

Friedman, who never revealed the identity of the bridesmaid responsible for her injury, said that the young woman will be in her wedding this Friday.

"A lot of people think, 'poor Rachelle,' or 'This happened to Rachelle,'" said Friedman. "Yes it sucks, but this also happened to her and in some ways I don't know what I would do if I were her.

"It's a situation where she was hurt emotionally and mentally and I was hurt physically, but I really think I would at least have a harder time emotionally," she said. "It's really, really hard to heal emotionally, even maybe than to learn to live in my physical situation."

Friedman says that since her story went international, she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from perfect strangers. Her wedding, which she says wasn't exactly a priority while facing mounting medical bills, is being paid for by 1-800 Registry, as is her honeymoon to Fiji.

And rehab therapy -- coveted treatment that is too expensive at the moment for Friedman -- is being donated to the bride by Project Walk in California, a center she says is "known for getting people out of wheelchairs."

"I'm completely flabbergasted and excited," said Friedman of the support. "I knew it would all happen, but not like this."

The wedding, set for Pittsboro, N.C., will feature Friedman's favorite flowers -- sunflowers -- and a country theme.

Albeit a bit untraditionally, Friedman says she and her groom will have a first dance.

"Yes, I'm sad we won't be dancing 'normally,' I wont be prancing around the floor, but we are going to dance," she said. "We are going to have our first dance."

Larry Friedman, Friedman's father, will accompany his daughter down the aisle, although they won't be walking side by side.

As for the emotion going into her wedding weekend, Friedman says she can't stop smiling, but knows that her family and friends will probably be unable to hold back tears.

"I think everyone in the crowd will be crying, but I am just so happy," said Friedman.

"I'm going to be all smiles. It will be emotional, but it will be happy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Spinal Cord Injury Victim First to Undergo Embryonic Stem-Cell Therapy

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Dr. Donald Leslie, medical director at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, has high hopes.

"We want to cure paralysis," he said. "We want to stop spinal cord injury. How incredible would that be?"

Leslie's mission has begun with T.J. Atchinson, the first step in research that he believes could lead to many steps for those who were told they would never walk again. Atchinson, 21, was the first human with a spinal cord injury to undergo embryonic stem-cell therapy.

The athletic college student's life took a hard turn in September when he was home from the University of Alabama visiting his family in Chatom and lost control of his car. Even before he was cut loose from the vehicle, he knew something was wrong.

"I realized I couldn't feel from about here down," nursing student Atchinson said, pointing to his waist. "When I got to the hospital, they said I would never walk again."

The accident took place on the birthday of Christopher Reeves, the actor who had fought hard for embryonic stem-cell therapy but never lived to receive it. Atchinson was still accepting the news about his situation when doctors told him he'd be a great candidate for the therapy.

Stem cells are the building blocks of life, and they've been used in the laboratory to repair the broken spinal cords of small animals, who walked again. Atchinson agreed to become test case No. 1.

Doctors opened his wound, while researchers used a remote control to guide the needle. They injected his spinal cord with a small dose of 2 million cells that, they hope, will transform into new nerve cells, attach to muscles and refire Atchinson's central nervous system.

Although Atchinson's role was only to prove the procedure is safe, he believes it's already working. "I can feel that," Atchinson said, pulling the hair on his legs.

After six months of the therapy, he said, he's able to sense weight when he places heavy items on his lap. It's barely there, Atchinson said, but he can sense something. Rubbing his leg, Atchinson said, "I can feel that, there's something there."

His doctors are cautiously optimistic.

"It's very hard to measure sensation," Dr. Leslie said. "But if he tells me he couldn't feel something before, and he can now, I got to believe him. And I want this for him more than you know."

Doctors will continue to measure Atchinson's strength and test his nerves and muscles. He returns to school in the fall, moving on with his life but still holding out hope that his injury is healing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wheelchair-Bound Bride Determined to Walk Down the Aisle

Michael Blann/Thinkstock(ONTARIO, Canada) -- When Jennifer Darmon and Mike Belawetz get married next month, the ceremony will be especially emotional because Jen plans to get out of her wheelchair and walk down the aisle.

"It was Mike's idea," says Jen, 28, who was paralyzed in a 2008 car crash. "I was thinking there's no way I'm going to roll down the aisle. Mike said, why don't you walk with two people on both arms. They will be your crutches."

Jen travels three times a week from her home in Ontario, Canada, to the Detroit Medical Center's Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan for aggressive therapy designed to treat people with devastating spinal-cord injuries.

She and Mike, who has stood by her despite her paralysis, are recording her progress in a video diary, "Walk for Love," on the institute's website. There have been two episodes so far, with a third due to be posted on Tuesday.

They are making the videos to inspire other paralysis victims. "Somebody else might see it and it might motivate them to achieve their goals. Nothing is impossible," Jen says.

On July 27, 2008, Jen, Mike and five other friends were headed to the beach in Grand Bend, Ontario, when their minivan was struck head-on. The other passengers got out of the van without serious injuries, but she was trapped, and Mike and his friends had to get her out.

She was airlifted to London Hospital where she was in intensive care for a week and learned that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

When Jen was told soon after the crash that she would never walk again, "it kind of crossed my mind that he might not stay," she says in the video about Mike. "Right away he reassured me that he wasn't going anywhere."

"The situation's changed, but she's still the same person, " says Mike.

Last June, on the fourth anniversary of their romance, he proposed, and Jen began her fight to walk down the aisle, wearing braces on her legs.

She is practicing at the rehabilitation facility where she has been treated since the fall of 2008, wearing an old wedding dress belonging to a therapist there. "She said, 'I just got married, and you're more than welcome to borrow my dress to practice in,'" says Jen.

During the practice, Jen balances herself by holding onto to parallel bars, explains Cheryl Angelelli, a spokeswoman for the institute. "Her goal on her wedding day is to walk with her dad holding her on one side and her brother on the other," she said.

Doctors believe Jen will be able to walk short distances in the future using crutches, Angelelli said. "She's a very, very determined young woman. She has the best attendance out of any client in our program. She's very committed."

"Once I want to achieve something, I always give it 100%," Jen says. "I was like that before the injuries."

She has always been organized, too, and says she is nearly all ready for the wedding. Her dress is strapless and A-line. "When I walk, you can't see my braces under my dress," she explains. "I have everything booked, bought--I just need to get a pair of shoes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio