New Frontiers in Spinal Cord Injury Research
WebMD News Archive
Although this work is very preliminary, Yu says that he sees it as a
necessary task to prepare the next big step in spinal cord research: a link-up
between those working in functional restoration, such as the Cleveland FES
Center, and biologic researchers who are concentrating on nerve regeneration.
Yu says that nerve regeneration has just "really taken off in the last 10
years, because it's only in the last 10 years that it has been apparent that
something can be done."
The studies now underway in Cleveland, such as Yu's study, will become
especially useful in an era "when we have incomplete spinal cord
injuries," says Yu. If nerve regeneration is successful in the future, it
is likely to lead to only partial restoration, which will mean incomplete
spinal cord injuries. In that case FES becomes even more important, as
stimulation can be used not only to strengthen muscles but also to help nerve
pathways begin working again, Yu says.
The Cleveland team is hoping to put this theory to the test in a joint
project with nerve regeneration researchers. The first steps toward that goal
are preliminary talks slated to begin later this spring with researchers from
Washington University in St. Louis.
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