Posts Tagged ‘neuroplasticity’

Hope vs Hype

July 12, 2012

I hear and read it over and over again – cynicism in the spinal cord injury community when talking about a cure. I understand where it comes from.  Decades of time and billions of dollars that so far have not delivered a viable regenerative therapy. In my own experience, I remember hearing promises of “another 5 years” as a reasonable timeline to anticipate cures. That was 10 years ago.

Today’s world of constant media bombardment only fuels the hype. Almost daily we read stories of breakthroughs that may “one day” give paralyzed people the ability to walk again. So far, none of those predictions have come to reality.

It’s not just the media that misleads us. Around the world there are doctors and clinics offering stem cell and other specialized treatments, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and so far showing no verifiable efficacy. I have seen people with SCI work hard to raise the money for these therapies, head overseas with high hopes, and return home with nothing to show. They are reluctant and even embarrassed, understandably, to tell their supporters that the treatment failed.

And finally, we have some scientists who exaggerate the potential of their research, most often in an effort to raise more funding dollars. I find this to be the most unethical of the misleading information. The spinal cord injury community is a very vulnerable population. Many are desperate for any positive news that would give them hope of being able to breathe on their own, or use their hands. If they’re not yet cynical, they will hang on for dear life to a scientist who promises recovery.

In fact, we don’t have any therapy at this point, other than intensive exercise to promote neuroplasticity, that offers meaningful recovery of function. How do we fight our way through the hype to find good science worthy of our support?  The very best way is to take the time to read and understand published scientific papers showing verifiable data. Not all of us have the time or mental capacity for that task, however; we need trusted community leaders who will sift through the data and advise us.

Fortunately, this is the path that Unite 2 Fight Paralysis has chosen. We know that as a community we become empowered through education. We offer resources that will bring everyone up to speed on the science that as of today truly holds the most promise. For starters, visit U2FP Board Member Chris Powell’s SCI Research and Advocacy blog, and plan to join us in Irvine, California for the 7th annual Working 2 Walk Symposium.


The Devil is in the Details

September 27, 2011

With less than 3 weeks to go until the Working 2 Walk Science & Advocacy Symposium, my head is spinning with the endless details that need to be addressed.  Making sure everyone is registered properly, compiling and proofreading the event program, keeping the website updated, communicating with our attendees and supporters, talking with the hotel about catering and audio/visual requirements, and the list goes on – connecting all the dots keeps W2W on my mind 24/7.

Everybody should take a turn at event organizing at some point, if just to gain an appreciation of the minutiae that need attention every step of the way.  I’d venture to say there are similarities with trying to get the nervous system re-organized after a spinal cord injury.  Talk about connecting the dots!

Laboratory research has produced a number of theories about the best way to go about restoring function lost to paralysis.  Our current real-time therapies include adaptive equipment, intensive exercise, electrical stimulation (FES), and locomotor training, all of which have shown the ability to enhance recovery.  To date, though, none of these could be considered a cure.

At Working 2 Walk we will hear a variety of theories about the best way to go about achieving curative therapies, including:

  • nerve bridging enhanced by chondroitinase to promote regeneration;
  • the use of biomaterials as part of drug and cell therapy treatments;
  • the role of neuroplasticity in repairing the nervous system;
  • lab results and the first stage of clinical trials using different cell therapies.

Slowly but surely we are assembling the pieces of the puzzle that will one day fit together and provide answers to the complex problem of curing paralysis.  As one scientist said to me a few years ago, “Most people believe that cell therapies will offer solutions for people with SCI; the devil is in the details.”

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