05 March 2014

Research in paralysis treatment offers hope to patients

The main areas of research in paralysis treatment are cell therapy, brain-machine interfaces, epidural electric stimulation, enzyme treatment and neuroprotectors.

Following are the main areas of research in paralysis treatment:

Cell therapy

Stem cells are immature cells that grow into the specialised cells that comprise the body's tissue. The aim is to coax these cells into becoming nerve cells to replenish those damaged in spinal injury.

Hopes were battered in 2011 when Geron, a California-based pioneer, abandoned the field, citing high costs.

Prospects have revived with Newark-based company StemCells Inc., which implants stem cells obtained from donated foetal brain tissue.

In 2012, the company said two trial patients recovered feeling in some parts of the body. Results from another eight patients are expected this year, and the trial to be widened.

Another firm, Neuralstem in Maryland, received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for a Phase I stem cell trial.

Brain-machine interfaces

In February, scientists in Massachusetts said they had demonstrated how a monkey can use only its thoughts, transferred by electrodes via a computer, to manipulate the arm of a fully-sedated fellow primate.

In May 2012, collaboration between researchers in the United States and the German Aerospace Centre enabled a paralysed woman to lift a drink to her lips with a thought-controlled robotic arm.

Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina said in October 2011 they had enabled a monkey to move a virtual object with its mind, and crucially, sense the texture thereof.

Epidural electric stimulation

In 2011, electrodes implanted on the lower spine of a paraplegic man allowed him to stand and regain some movement in his legs, in a study led by the University of Louisville's Spinal Cord Research Centre in Kentucky.

Other tests have repeated the feat in patients of whom some recovered bladder, bowel and sexual function.

Enzyme treatment

A research area still in its infancy, this involves using enzymes to break down scar tissue that accumulates around the point of spinal injury to unblock and enable a remapping of the nerve circuit.

The enzyme chondroitinase has shown promise in lab tests, but has yet to be tested in clinical trials.


Scientists are also working on drugs that will be administered directly after a spinal injury to limit the spread of cell death and inflammation that causes scarring and robs the patient of tissue that can potentially be repaired in future.

Fish oils are among the potential protectants being investigated, but no drugs have yet been approved.

Read more:

Eye surgery may benefit some patients with facial paralysis

Embryonic stem cell trial halted




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