Spinal cord injuries are among the most severe, and the effects of this type of injury are often permanent. Symptoms can include loss of strength, muscle function, as well as loss of other body functions supported by the spine. Recovery is long and difficult if treatment isn’t administered immediately, even with aggressive rehabilitation.
“You are likely to need extensive medical care, home modifications, assistive technology, rehabilitation and ongoing therapy for the rest of your life,” says Dolan Dobrinksy Rosemblum, LLP.
But one new study out of Tel Aviv University, which was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, claims there is a simple, uncomplicated treatment that may be the quickest way to deal with spinal cord injury and minimize scarring and inflammation.
The treatment involves an intravenous injection of an enzyme into the spinal cord just hours after the incident.
Dr. Yona Goldshmit, one of the study’s leaders, says the main purpose is to block the body’s natural reaction to the injury by reducing secondary damage as soon as possible. Secondary damage, which can cause additional functional disability, is caused by the release of excess glutamates.
Injecting the enzyme reduces the temporary high glutamine levels, which changes the balance of concentration between blood and brain.
During the study, the treatment was used on lab mice over five days. The animals showed significant recovery from the injury.
The injection of the enzyme increased the number of surviving neurons at the lesion site and also allowed for axonal regeneration into the injury site. That led to significant functional recovery compared to the mice that weren’t given the treatment.
The discovery of the enzyme’s effects came in 2006 when Dr. Angela Ruban was working with the late Professor Vivian I. Teichberg. They didn’t focus on spinal cord patients at first. The goal was to treat “neurological and pathological situations with a new approach to evaluating neurotrauma,” according to Dr. Ruban.
When the new treatment is available to paramedics, the consequences of injuries can be reduced dramatically. Because the injection does not cause any harmful effects, it can be administered even when there is no official diagnosis. In other words, paramedics can give the injection even if the patient is only suspected to have a spinal cord injury – and without any known adverse consequences.
Imagine the possibilities if we could treat spinal cord injuries with a simple enzyme injection. That would mean that this type of injury wouldn’t necessarily mean that the person would have to completely upend their lives. Israel has the chance to lead the way with this new, simple treatment that could potentially change the lives of thousands of people.
Although the injection will do little to help those who have old spinal cord injuries, it can help prevent future victims from having to fight the long and difficult battle to recovery that many spinal cord injury victims face today.
Perhaps the discovery of this enzyme can lead to new treatments for those who have old injuries. But even if that is never to be, Israel can at least help those who suffer such devastating injuries in the future. And perhaps the effects of the enzyme can be used to help prevent secondary damage with other injuries as well.