People say the only things that are inevitable in life are death and taxes. I beg to differ. I believe that another inevitability is soon coming – the cure for spinal cord injuries. Scientists have made many breakthroughs in the last 25 years in terms of spinal cord injuries. In past years when a person would get a spinal cord injury, there was pretty much no hope for them to regain any function or movement that was lost, unless some sort of miracle took place. Today, there is still no cure; however, experiments are being done that have shown promising results.
Stem cell research looks to be one of the most promising treatments for spinal cord injuries. Stem cells are special because they are the primitive cells that give rise to different kinds of tissues in the body, and because they are self renewing in the body and in the laboratory so that large quantities can be produced for medical purposes (The Promise of Stem Cells, 2002). Another great quality of stem cells is that they have the potential to develop into many different cells in the body. When a stem cell divides, it can either remain a stem cell or develop into another type of cell. Today, donated organs and tissues are often used to replace ailing or destroyed tissue, but the need for transplantable tissues and organs far outweighs the available supply.
Stem cells, directed to differentiate into specific cell types, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat things such as spinal cord injuries (Stem Cell Basics). In a study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, rats were induced with a spinal cord injury. Nine days after injury, the rats were treated with embryonic stem cells. Two to five weeks later, the rats showed improvement in weight bearing and coordination. Another study was conducted where fifteen mice with spinal cord injuries were studied. Eight of those mice were treated with transplants to their spinal cords of stem cells. The remaining seven mice were used as controls. Seven days later, the mice that had received stem cells showed greater functional recovery than the control mice (Stem Cells Information Center).
Another possible cure for spinal cord injuries is functional electrical stimulation. Functional eletrical stimulation uses implanted electrodes to stimulate paralyzed nerves so that arms and legs can be used for improved function (Spinal Cord Injury Treatment and Cure Research). These nerve substitutes are helping paraplegics stand and walk, and are helping quadriplegics grasp objects. An implanted stimulator generates electrical impluses that mimic natural movement patterns. The impulses are transmitted via electrodes to the paralyzed muscles (Different Strokes for Different Folks).
Another possible treatment for spinal cord injuries is omentum transposition. The omentum is a band of tissue in the abdomen of mammals. Surgery is used to partially detatch the omentum, tunnel it under the skin and suture it in place at the point of injury. It is believed that the omentum tissue may secrete chemicals that stimulate nerve growth, as well as soak up fluids to reduce pressure. The only problem with omentum transposition is that it has to be completed within three hours after the injury. Animal trials have shown some functional improvement if the operation is performed within three hours of injury, yet little or no improvement is shown if the operation is performed six to eight hours after injury (Spinal Cord Injury Treatment and Cure Research).
Although there is still no cure for spinal cord injuries, research has shown that a cure may not be too far from sight. Every day new research is being conducted to try to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. I am hopeful and confident that some day, and hopefully someday soon, there will be a cure for spinal cord injuries and I will be able to regain some function, and ultimately walk again. Until that day comes, I will continue to pray for a miracle and hope for the best in terms of a cure for spinal cord injuries.