Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spinal Cord Injury Therapy Developed

U.S. medical scientists have developed a new spinal cord therapy that helps the body permanently recover from such injuries.

Researchers at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research studied rats with crushed spinal cords. The scientists found treatment soon after injury, combining radiation therapy to destroy harmful cells and microsurgery to drain excess fluids, significantly helped the body repair the injured cord.

The scientists, led by Nurit Kalderon, said their findings demonstrate conventional clinical procedures hold promise for preventing paralysis due to spinal cord injuries. Currently there is no cure for human spinal cord injury.

"This research opens the door to developing a clinical protocol for curing human spinal cord injuries using conventional therapies," said Kalderon.

The study, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, appears in the online journal PLoS One.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Treatment Gets Partially Paralyzed Upright Again

Bob Konieczko became partially paralyzed after falling off a roof. For the past three years, he's been mostly confined to wheel chair but today he's learning to walk again.

"Regaining the strength in my midsection which is the important part here. So very, very steady slow progress,” said Konieczko.

Spinal cord damage disrupts the travel of messages from the brain to the legs and feet. Doctors are using locomotor therapy to retrain the body, with hopes the repetition will help the spinal cord remember.

"We believe that the stepping reflex is actually held through the cord, so we're really retraining the spinal cord,” said Dr. Steve Williams, Boston Medical Center.

The trial is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation.
The goal is to show that the therapy, which can add up to $50,000 dollars for 60 sessions, can be cost effective. Researchers believe patients on the move won't suffer sedentary injuries.

"One of the problems that many spinal cord injury patients face is a bed sore or an ulcer. The studies have shown to heal a single bed sore can cost $100,000 so, if people can walk they have no risk of bed sores,” said Dr. Williams.

Bob and other patients say they're proof the therapy works.

"My stamina is a lot better,” said Konieczko.

"I don't walk with a walker anymore, I use the crutches and my distance has almost doubled as far as I can walk,” said patient Rich Maloney.

If results remain positive, locomotor therapy could one day get other partially paralyzed patients back on track. The Boston Medical Center is still looking for spinal cord patients to take part in the study.
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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Nerve Repair Innovation Gives Man Hope

After spinal-cord injury, Cyberkinetics' device restores some function for paralyzed patient

Nearly five years ago, Brandon Ingram rear-ended a car while driving west on I-70 near Keystone Avenue and crashed through his windshield.

The accident broke four of his ribs and punctured the then-22-year-old's lungs. He was covered in bruises, and doctors had to sew his eyelid back together.

But that wasn't the worst of it. The Indianapolis resident was paralyzed from the waist down.
Thanks to the work of a company with strong Purdue University roots, Ingram now lives independently with his wife, Aisha. He has regained some key functions, and if he thinks about it, he can wiggle his toes, and he can walk with the aid of braces and his upper body.

Ingram, now 27, works at a cable TV firm and also does motivational speaking through his company, Positive Images.

"The device gave me hope, not only physically, but mentally. That device changed my life," he said. "They didn't think I was going to make it."

The device he's referring to is the Andara Oscillating Field Stimulator, a small, pacemaker-sized box that can regenerate damaged nerve fibers and restore some functions. It's under development by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, which bought out West Lafayette-based Andara last year.

Cyberkinetics, based in Foxborough, Mass., has pioneered several technologies for spinal-cord injuries, including the NeuroPort System -- designed to record and monitor brain electrical activity -- which has been cleared to market in the U.S.

Another of its innovations is the BrainGate System, designed to provide communication and control of a computer, assistive devices and, ultimately, limb movement. The BrainGate now is in human clinical trials.
But the company's main focus now is the Oscillating Field Stimulator, which has been tested in Ingram and 13 other patients with severe spinal injuries and is up for a special humanitarian device exemption from Food and Drug Administration.

If the government gives the go-ahead, the Andara device would become the first major advance in treating spinal-cord injuries since World War II.

Cyberkinetics -- which has 56 employees in Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah -- licensed the technology for the device from Purdue.

"The (OFS) technology obviously was born there. The experience and resources at Purdue . . . (and) the scientific know-how . . . is relied on heavily," said Mark Carney, who co-founded Andara and now serves as executive vice president and a director of Cyberkinetics.
Specifically, the Oscillating Field Stimulator technology was born at Purdue's Center for Paralysis Research.

The center's director, Richard Borgens, discovered in the mid-1970s that low voltage could regrow damaged nerves. In the '90s, Borgens developed a machine that could do that in humans.

"It would be the only regenerative therapy that has ever been available to patients" if it's approved by the FDA, said Borgens, who co-founded Andara.

He said that, since the middle of the last century, patients and doctors have had two methods of treating spinal-cord injuries: surgery, to lessen pressure and stabilize the back; and physical rehabilitation. In the mid-1990s, steroids were introduced, but the medical community is split over their effectiveness.

"With traditional spinal injuries, there's very few positive results," said Gerald Szkotnicki, director of the Clarian Neuroscience Center of Excellence, a program that aims at furthering the development of neuroscience. "Anything that could provide a benefit for a patient is being sought after worldwide."
Borgens said that the clinical trials for the Oscillating Field Stimulator gave unexpected results: quadriplegics regained the use of their hands; paralyzed patients could feel their feet again. "Indeed, these people have significant change in their quality of their lives for the better," he said. "I would've been amazed if they had improved half as good as they did."

Dr. Scott Shapiro, chief of neurosurgery at Wishard Memorial Hospital and a professor of neurosurgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, is in charge of the human trials. He said the Andara device shows great promise, but is by no means a silver bullet for spinal injuries.

For one thing, it's expensive: Each device is expected to cost $40,000 to $50,000. It also needs to be used within days after an injury in order to be effective.

"It's safe. It's easy. If we prove it, it's a first step and a pretty good step," Shapiro said. "It's not a cure."

But as far as Brandon Ingram is concerned, it is. He can get in and out of the car again, dress himself, take a shower.

"I can do everything at home," Ingram said. "It regenerated me. It was just a wonderful feeling."

By Chuck Bowen
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