Several types of research on spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are being done. Some of them may be at the point
where people with SCIs are using them on a trial basis. Others might still be
in the animal-study stage. They all have the potential to lead to a return of
some feeling and movement in paralyzed areas.
Neurorestorative and neuroregenerative
of research look at ways to stimulate activity of or growth in damaged nerve
Potassium channel blockers, such as 4-aminopyridine (4-AP), may
improve communication between undamaged areas and damaged areas. This medicine
is currently in early tests with humans.
Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, regulate neuron
growth. They may help nerve cells regenerate.
Nogo blockers are also being studied. Nogo is a chemical that prevents axons, part of
a nerve cell, from growing. Axons carry messages between nerve cells. Nogo
research looks at ways to block this chemical so that axon growth can occur.
Glatiramer acetate is a medicine used to treat
multiple sclerosis. It may stimulate the
immune system to produce a type of cell (lymphocytes) that in turn protects the spinal cord and
may stimulate regeneration.
Neuroconstructive and neurogenetic
Neuroconstructive research explores transplanting cells into the spinal
cord, and neurogenetic research involves inserting
genes into the spinal cord.
Stem cells are immature cells that have the ability to grow
into any one of the body's cell types, including those destroyed or injured in
an SCI. The stem cells are transplanted into the spinal cord. Stem cells can
come from animals or humans and can be embryonic, fetal, or adult.
Other types of cells may also be useful in helping people who have
SCIs. These include olfactory ensheathing glia, Schwann cells, and precursor
At this time, it is not well known what type of cell to
use or when and where to transplant cells.
Functional research looks at ways to
improve what people with SCIs can do physically, leading to an improved quality
Electrical stimulation uses low-level electrical current to
stimulate nervous system cells and muscles. The stimulated activity can change
the activity and behavior of cells. This therapy may help maintain or build up muscle.
Tendon transfer is a surgical procedure that takes a
tendon of an active muscle and attaches it to a
paralyzed muscle. This can result in better motion. One example of this is the
NeuroControl Freehand System, which, along with electrical stimulation, can
provide hand grasp to some people who have SCIs.
Locomotion therapy uses a harness and a treadmill to help
people with SCI use their legs and walk. A physical therapist helps with leg
movements. Research reports that people with incomplete SCIs showed improvement
in walking speeds, endurance, and the need for support.1
Kalb RG (2003). Getting the spinal cord to think for
itself. Archives of Neurology, 60(6):
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