There are very few disabilities worse than paralysis from spinal cord injury. This often results from sudden catastrophes and frequently affects the young and active. It is very poignant that many incidents occur during recreational activities, and horse rising is one prominent example. Nothing exemplifies this more dramatically than the case of Christopher Reeve, famous for playing Superman.
The damage is typically catastrophic and this MRI scan shows how a fracture of the vertebrae could seriously damage the spinal cord, in this case it affects the neck. Spinal cord injuries often mean a life on a wheelchair or even worse, a bed-bound existence. Rehabilitation is often limited to maximizing potential.
There are however several scientific advances that will hopefully change the outlook for spinal cord injuries. Here are 6 rays of light at the end of the tunnel.
1. EPIDURAL SPINAL CORD STIMULATION
This is the relatively more established of the 6 procedures. It consists of direct spinal cord stimulation. Research that has shown the benefit is supported by the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation-a clear example of celebrity supporting neurology.
2. NON-INVASIVE SPINAL CORD STIMULATION
By delivering electrical impulses to the spinal cord, researchers have successfully got spinal cord injured subjects to make walking movements. The advantage of this procedure is that it is not invasive. It’s not yet walking, but its a step in the right direction.
3. ROBOTIC EXOSKELETON
A bit more SciFi is the use of a robotic exoskeleton. Its only one case but anything that may work is worth it.
4. SPINAL CORD REGROWTH
The future is however more futuristic if trial of regrowing the spinal cord. Its mainly in zebrafish and rats for now, but there is at least a report of using nasal cells to repair the spinal cord in man.
5. NEUROSPINAL SCAFFOLDING
6. HEAD TRANSPLANTATION
Another potential method is head transplantation, which is essentially spinal cord reattachment. See my previous post on this titled Head transplant, anyone?
If you are keen on more academic take on this topic, an article in Nature titled Spinal cord repair strategies: why do they work? is just the thing for you, and it shows it’s not all doom and gloom.