Research Suggests New Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries

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A multidisciplinary investigation led by Inderjit Singh, Ph.D, of the Medical University of South Carolina, has resulted in a new treatment of spinal cord injuries (SCI). The study investigates the efficacy of atorvastatin (AT), (i.e. Lipitor) as a treatment for spinal cord injuries following trauma. The study, to be published in the April edition of Journal of Neurochemistry, demonstrates that by using AT in treating spinal cord injuries after they have occurred, animal models with hind-limb paralysis showed significant functional recovery and less secondary tissue damage. Scientists discovered that AT also protects the cells responsible for producing myelin, which insulates nerves, in the spinal cord. This discovery of post-injury AT treatment could become valuable in preserving neurological function and movement following spinal cord injuries.

Singh is a Pediatrics distinguished university professor, Division of Developmental Neurogenetics director and Darby Children's Research Institute scientific director.

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Spinal cord injury is a major cause of disability, and the current therapy of high dose steroids offers little benefit. It is now accepted that the site, nature, and duration of secondary inflammations occurring immediately after a spinal cord injury determine the extent of functional loss or paralysis, and early reduction of these events is shown to minimize functional loss and enhance recovery. As a result, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agents, including statins, are the favored first line of defense as therapeutic agents in spinal cord injuries.

"These exciting findings suggest that AT shelters myelin producing cells and neurons during the inflammatory storm produced by trauma, and that when the storm has passed that such cells resume myelin production," said DCRI executive director Bernard Maria, M.D. "It opens up a new paradigm for treatment of spinal cord injury by preserving the integrity of progenitor cells that would otherwise have died off."

AT treatment also prevented apoptotic neuronal loss, which is of critical value in spinal cord injuries, as neuroprotective treatments after injury have the potential to lead to improved functional recovery and only
a few residual axons (5%-10%) are needed to achieve significant functional recovery.

Emphasizing the therapeutic potential of post-injury AT treatment in spinal cord injuries, the investigation also strengthens the idea of long-term benefits that include reduction of secondary pathology through
suppression of inflammation, Wallerian degeneration, gliosis, and most importantly-neuronal apoptosis.

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