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In the realm of spinal-cord injuries there are around 273,000 Americans who are currently struggling to live with this horrible affliction. With the majority of these paralyzing injuries occurring in the prime of these peoples lives, between the ages of 16 and 30, cervical spinal-cord injuries make up more than 50% of the cases experienced in the United States alone. But while all these depressing statistics spell gloom in the face of optimists, neuroscience researchers Dr. Daniel Lu and Dr. Reggie Edgerton are ready to change that.
Earlier this month the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) awarded Dr. Lu and Dr. Edgerton a $6 million research grant which would allow them to explore new types of paralysis restoration therapies for the next five years. The UCLA research team will look to build upon the former findings of Edgerton, who had conducted prior research with Russian scientist Yury Gerasimenko on lumbar spinal cord injuries.
Focusing mainly on the most promising form of therapy, electrical impulse, the UCLA research team looks to try their therapy on potential candidates with Dr. Lu testing the stimulation at various variables of power, locations, application and dosage. The aim here is to discover which customized form of therapy is most effective with which patients. On the other hand, the UCLA research team will also be exploring medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to improve function. It’s interesting to note that the UCLA research team hopes to experiment with serotonergic agonists, medication typically prescribed by doctors to treat depression. The idea here is that increasing serotonin levels with the spinal cord may open up communication pathways that cells typically would not be able to comprehend.
Despite the excitement surrounding the new grant and potential for research, both doctors understand what they are up against. While great progress has been made in both neurosurgery and spinal-cord injury therapy, the sheer complexity of the function of the elements behind it stand as a testament to the more than a quarter of a million Americans who still suffer. In the humble words of Dr. Edgerton, “The spinal cord is smart,”. For the sake of all those afflicted by spinal-cord injury, let’s hope that Dr. Edgerton, Dr. Lu, and the entire UCLA research team are, well for lack of a better word, smarter.