Spinal cord injuries from a sports-related accident, car crash or other traumatic event has often meant paralysis. While physical therapy and technology often restore some quality of life, it’s been limited. Now, however, the University of Michigan has developed an EpiPen for a spinal cord injury that could change medicine as we know it.
The Biological Problem
“Currently, the ability to reverse the effects of a spinal cord injury is extremely limited and is the holy grail of spinal medicine,” says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. Like the scientists at the University of Michigan, he has spent a great deal of his career studying spinal cord pathology.
There are many reasons spine injuries can lead to paralysis and other disabilities. Chief among them is the body’s response to traumatic events that involve the central nervous system.
“The spinal cord is well-insulated from inflammatory cells,” Kouri explains to Parentology. “When a person sustains a spinal cord injury, that barrier is broken, and inflammatory cells rush in to try to help clear out the injured neural tissue. Instead of aiding the spinal cord, the inflammatory cells destroy neuronal cells before they can heal.”
The Proposed Solution
Over the years, scientists and doctors have tried multiple approaches to prevent this process from taking full effect. One way was to use steroids; however, in these cases, the risks tended to outweigh the potential benefits. The University of Michigan research may change that.
“Though the research is in its early stages, it has enormous potential,” Kouri says. “Nanoparticles provide a conducive environment to limit neuronal injury and aid in neuronal regrowth. Additionally, they are already made of materials that are FDA approved, are stable at room temperature, and can be readily stored for immediate use.”
He also notes, “The exciting aspect of this study is that we now have a potential way to target those immune cells without the negative side effects that patients experienced with steroids. Instead of inhibiting the immune response directly, the [nanoparticles] injected in this study reprogram the immune response and create [a] favorable environment for nerve regeneration.”
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, with athletic activities and sports accounting for 10% of all reported injuries. These types of injuries are most prevalent for males between the ages of 16 and 30.
Having this EpiPen on the sidelines of sporting events or in paramedic’s kits could make a huge difference in a person’s recovery. If victims of these accidents receive the right intervention in time, they may have a better chance of retaining control over their bodily movements.