Spinal cord injuries can be debilitating and change a person’s life with a partial or full loss of movement. In the US, there are an estimated 17,500 new spinal cord injuries every year, and there are currently no mainstream ways to reverse these injuries.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, however, have made promising progress in trials with a drug to treat spinal cord injuries.
First, saving mice
Published in the Journal of Clinical and Transitional Medicine, trial results showed that injured lab mice given the drug AZD1236 for three days had an 85 percent improvement in movement and sensation six weeks after injury. Also, the benefits were similar for mice who were given the drug immediately after the injury or 24 hours later.
AZD1236 was originally developed to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease but showed promise in mice with spinal cord compression injuries. Researchers found that the drug blocks two enzymes that increase after a spinal cord injury. This way, the drug reduces swelling, inflammation, and pain. It also reduces the breakdown of the blood-spinal cord barrier and the scarring of connective tissue.
Soon, saving humans
“What we’re doing is we’re dampening down the damage to the nerve tissues. That way, we’re preserving more and more of the neurons,” said Prof Zubair Ahmed of the University of Birmingham, a co-author of the study.
While it isn’t clear from these mice trials what the benefit would be to humans, AZD1236 is already approved and safe for human consumption. If it proves effective, this could mark a game change in treatment for spinal cord injuries.
“Spinal cord injury is a truly devastating life-altering injury with unfortunately little that can be done to limit the primary consequences of injury, such as paralysis and sensory impairment,” Dr. Mariel Purcell, a consultant in spinal injuries, said to The Guardian. “Translating this intervention into newly injured patients seems eminently practical, as the effect of AZD1236 is maintained, even if not administered until 24 hours post-injury, and the course of treatment is short at three days. It’s wonderful to see such exciting results.”