Back in 2004, I suffered a work-related injury that necessitated two spinal surgeries. It left me with permanent partial disability, a fused spine, and in pain 24/7/365. Sadly, once the injury had been suffered, there was nothing that medical science could do but treat its resulting symptoms (rather than their cause), and prop up the damaged spinal structure around the affected nerves. The nerve injuries themselves, and their permanent effects, could not be healed.
Now comes news that future such injuries might be treated in a whole new way.
When your body suffers trauma, its fierce army of immune cells go to work — clearing out dead and damaged tissue as well as beefing up the injured area’s defense against infection. But for the some 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury in the US annually, the body’s immune system can often do more harm than good, causing nerve damage, numbness, even paralysis.
With this in mind, scientists at the University of Michigan set out to find a way around this over-reactive immune response, and discovered that an injection of nanoparticles directed to suppress immune cells could become the “EpiPen” of spinal trauma.
. . .
The central nervous system, which includes the spinal cord, is usually protected from our aggressive immune activity thanks to the blood-brain barrier — a complex of endothelial cells that help block toxins, pathogens and other dangerous substances from impacting our nervous system, and prevents overzealous immune cells from causing a dangerous amount of inflammation to fragile nerve tissues.
However, spinal trauma often leads to a break in this barrier, causing rapid death of neurons, nerve damage that inhibits them from sending signals throughout the body and scar-tissue formation which prevents regeneration of nerve cells — leaving patients worse off, even after the injury itself is fixed.
. . .
This new discovery … employs non-pharmaceutical nanoparticles that redirect potentially harmful immune cells away from the spinal cord injury, while allowing the more helpful ones in to work the repairs. Because the nanoparticles aren’t attached to drugs, scientists believe that unwanted side effects often associated with pharmaceuticals will be avoided.
Meanwhile, fewer immune cells will cause less inflammation and deterioration of nerve tissue.
“Hopefully, this technology could lead to new therapeutic strategies not only for patients with spinal cord injury but for those with various inflammatory diseases,” says UM research fellow Jonghyuck Park.
There’s more at the link.
The fourth paragraph cited above is an almost exact description of what happened to my damaged nerves over time. Surgery could correct the structural problems with my spine, but not the nervous system issues. If this new technique can address the latter, it’ll be a life-changer for many people. It’s too late for it to benefit me, but I’m here to tell you, almost any prospect of less permanent damage – not to mention less permanent pain! – after such injuries will be very, very worthwhile.
I hope the researchers succeed in making this treatment a practical reality.