Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Next Big Thing in Medicine: Help for Spinal Cord Injuries and Quicker Healing Wounds

Researchers are looking for the next big thing in medicine, and they're getting close. One group hopes to drastically change the outcome for people with spinal cord injuries. Another’s discovery will heal wounds better and faster.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins have been studied to help everything from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer's. And soon, they could help people with devastating spinal cord injuries.

After a spinal cord injury, inflammation cuts off blood flow to the spine, making the injury that much worse. When researchers gave newly paralyzed rats statins, they not only improved, they actually started walking again.

"By using statins to shut off some of those active processes that happen in inflammation that have nothing to do with the cholesterol lowering ability of the drug, you protect the cells from dying," said Dr. Bernard Maria, pediatric neurologist.

Another group of researchers is on the verge of a breakthrough that will make healing cuts, diabetic wounds and even war injuries a whole lot easier.

"The idea of this technology is to modulate the scarring response so that we shift the balance from scarring towards regeneration," said biologist Guatam Ghatnekar Ph.D.

Doctor Ghatnekar created a substance based on a naturally-occurring protein in the body. In a recent animal study, it reduced scarring by 50-percent and healed wounds twice as fast.

A gel, like this inactive one, will be applied directly to wounds.
It can also be injected internally, which would mean less scarring and faster healing for brain, heart, even spinal cord injuries.

And they're well on their way to becoming medicine's next big thing.

Human trials on the use of statins to treat spinal cord injuries are expected to start early next year. Since statins are already FDA approved for lowering cholesterol and the safety of them is well known, doctors are forging quickly ahead. Clinical trials on the wound-healing gel began late last year.

By Becky Ogann