16 December 2014
Breakthrough in Spinal Injury Breathing Research
Scientists in the United States have successfully restored breathing function in spinal cord-injured laboratory animals using a combination therapy.
Slater and Gordon Associate Solicitor, who sustained a spinal cord injury as a teenager, said researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio have discovered that a combination of chondroitinase therapy and exposure to brief periods of low oxygen (intermittent hypoxia) can completely reverse paralysis in diaphragm muscles and restore normal breathing.
More than two-thirds of the animals in the study responded successfully to the combination therapy, with the treatment even working on animals which had sustained a spinal cord injury as much as 18 months ago.
Chondroitinase has been found to break down scar tissue surrounding damaged spinal cords while exposure to low oxygen increases the rate and depth of breathing. The combination of the two treatments stimulates the nerve cells and boosts serotonin levels around the injury site.
Severe neck injuries can cause paralysis of the diaphragm and breathing difficulties. Spinal cord injury researchers have found that serotonin, which we produce naturally in our bodies to maintain mood and reduce anxiety, helps to reconnect nerves and reverse the paralysis of the diaphragm.
According to Spinal Research, the UK’s leading spinal cord repair charity, Chondroitinase therapy can “enable injured nerves to regenerate through injury scar tissue and may encourage ‘sprouting’ of uninjured nerves into damaged areas where they may ‘take over’ the role of the nerves that were damaged or lost.”
Clearly further research is needed before these findings can be trialled on human patients. That said the results are encouraging for people who have sustained spinal cord injuries and have breathing difficulties as a result. It’s important however, to wait and see where we are with this research in two, three or even five years’ time.
The fact that this treatment was successful in animals injured for more than 12 months means there is hope for eventual treatments for those living with chronic injuries. Slater and Gordon are interested to learn of this development and will always be supportive of any research or medical treatment that benefits those affected by spinal cord injury both in the short and long term.
Until a cure for spinal cord injury is found, it is paramount that everyone affected by SCI is signposted to appropriate support organisations such as the Spinal Injuries Association and Spinal Research, and that they receive the correct care and treatment. For those with a spinal injury claim in the UK, this should be properly calculated to ensure they are compensated for lifelong losses.
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