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New Frontiers in Spinal Cord Injury Research

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Ronald J. Triolo, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve and senior research scientist at the Cleveland VA, is also eagerly awaiting collaboration with nerve regeneration researchers. Triolo specializes in movement restoration in the lower extremities at Cleveland FES. Working with E. Byron Marsolais, MD, PhD, Triolo is overseeing experimental work in stand-transfer, or helping patients to stand for a short period in order to change location (such as moving from bed to wheelchair) and to walk for a short distance. "Our goal is to provide power to lift the body weight, to maintain an upright position, and then to lower the body again," Triolo tells WebMD. The feasibility of their system has been tested in seven patients, but at this point numerous human studies will be necessary before it is available to spinal injury victims.

Although the stand-transfer system and the limited walking system are impressive, Triolo says the real excitement will come with collaboration with biologic researchers. Already, he says, "medicine has progressed [to the point that we can reduce the damage after injury] so that we are seeing less and less damage from trauma," thus the number of incomplete spinal injuries is growing. However, he adds, "it is really best to mix caution with optimism."

Vital Information:

  • Some investigators say science is entering a "golden age" of spinal injury research.
  • These studies include implanting patients with electric stimulators, promoting nerve growth, and studying why damaged nerves don't usually heal on their own.
  • The results are very preliminary.
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