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Spinal Cord Injury Research — Slow and Steady

Pedestrian2In our last post, I shared the challenges involved in recovery after a spinal injury. This area of medical research is complex, but the rewards for progress are great. Making major strides with technology and medical advancement, has given those with catastrophic injury a better quality of life. Many organizations are dedicated to this effort. Within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) there are many related agencies, one of which is the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The wide-ranging research that is underway there involves not only this entity, but others that are privately and publicly funded. Just one example among many is the United Spinal Association which has its roots in the veterans’ spinal injuries of WWII. The New York City veterans who were paralyzed during that war founded the organization to ensure greater rights and support for those with severe injury. These courageous vets wanted to ensure that those with paralyzing injuries would have the opportunity to have good quality of life, as well as greater civil rights. The organization today continues this mission. Not only does it serve those with spinal injuries, it supports their family members and other that care for the injured.

In addition to the support provided by institutions and private foundations, centers of excellence in research and care of spinal cord injuries are found within hospital communities. Some of these hospitals are able to put research into practice and in so doing, refine that research. The areas of research focus at this time include those that involve replacement of damaged nerve cells and protecting the patient’s surviving cells from damage. Due to the sheer complexity of the spinal cord and its importance in many aspects of the body’s function, an injury to the spinal cord is not a static event. Rather it changes over time, making the treatment of such injury more complex as well. 

The first hours after an accident or injury are vitally important. Although there is no way to reverse the damage the spinal cord, the initial actions at the scene of an accident or in the emergency room can be key to minimizing the damage.  At the scene, it is important to completely immobilize the spine, using rigid boards and neck collars. The emergency room treatment once a patient arrives includes ensuring proper breathing functions, shock prevention and possibly intravenous treatments of steroid medications have been shown to provide some improvement if given within hours of the injury.

After the first hours of an injury, other areas of treatment may come into play, depending on the circumstances. For example, researchers are working on the evolving area of neuroprotection. This treatment involves preventing more damage to cells reducing inflammation through the use of therapeutic hypothermia. This is the controlled lowering of the body’s temperature and can result in the protection of healthy cells which can help in reducing the damage to the spinal cord. This technique has been successfully used after a traumatic brain injury. Other areas of research and treatment include managing the body’s white blood cell response to the injury. After a spinal injury, specific white blood cells called macrophages, travel to the injury location and initially are helpful, but over time these particular cells can cause such things as scarring and increased inflammation. Working on managing of these cells is a key area of research.

Technology has also served to improve quality of life of spinal cord injury victims. Such things as advanced wheel chairs that can elevate a patient or climb stairs, could not have been imagined in prior decades. Electrical stimulation devices can help control the movement of the legs and arms. These functional electrical stimulation devices can even allow those with spinal injuries to stand and to walk. Another area of technological advancement is the use of robotics to help train patients learn to move as they did before the injury.

In cases involving spinal injuries, not only the injured person, but their family members often become very well-educated with regard to current research that might well help provide an improved quality of life to their loved one. We are very supportive of our clients’  and their families learning as much as possible about this, because it is helpful in maintaining a positive outlook to the future, while grasping the changes that such severe injuries bring to the injured person and their loved ones.

Catastrophic injury after an accident requires great expertise and support. If you or a loved one has been injured, the help that can be provided medically and legally, can make a difference in your future. Please feel free to contact Scholle Law for a free consultation. We are here to help, as we have for so many victims and their families.