Posts Tagged ‘neurotechnology’

The World Cup

June 11, 2014

begins tomorrow. It will be “kicked off” by a teenager who has a paraplegic spinal cord injury, outfitted in a robotic suit. The event has created a stir in the media and caused a firestorm of debate in the spinal cord injury community.

The Brazilian government provided $14 million to fund development of the suit. In the world of medical research, this is not an enormous sum of money, but it certainly makes a difference in the underfunded area of spinal cord injury.

feetoftheiro

Those who support research and development in the area of robotics argue that it brings us closer to recovery of locomotion, and any sort of upright mobility is healthier than spending all day in your wheelchair. Many believe that cures via the path of regenerative medicine are so far away that they will not see a benefit in their lifetimes, whereas robotics offer more immediate promise. As for the World Cup event and given that spinal cord injury receives so little media attention, they claim that any publicity is better than none.

On the other side of the coin, proponents of a focus on regenerative medicine argue that the potential for robotics is much more limited: The devices will not help those with quadriplegic injuries, and they do not bring recovery for secondary complications like bowel, bladder & sexual function, neuropathic pain, and more. They would say that spending vast amounts of money on robotics at the expense of regenerative medicine only helps to keep people paralyzed.

What do you think? Should we spend our precious dollars on compensatory devices or repairing the spinal cord?

 

Why Are We Still Paralyzed?

April 11, 2012

It’s a pretty basic question for a Cure Warrior.  As we ponder the multifaceted answers to that question, we begin to grasp the enormity of the task in front of us.   What are the biggest challenges?

  1. Scientific: Figuring out how to regenerate the appropriate pathways that will bring about functional MOTOR recovery in the chronic injury.  As we begin to experiment with therapies in humans, we’ll then need to identify the best DELIVERY method(s).
  2. Translation: Okay, we’ve had success with a couple of therapies in the laboratory.  How do we raise the money, get regulatory approval, and enroll enough patients to run a human clinical trial?  As a case in point, the Geron trial proved to be a massive and ultimately failed undertaking.  They ran out of money and couldn’t enroll sufficient patients before they could prove much of anything.
  3. Marketing: Any investor looking to bring a therapy to market had better have an excellent business plan, or the therapy will never reach widespread use.  We have seen this play out with the introduction of several neurotechnology devices.  Many of these tools have proven to be beneficial for clients, but implementation is hindered by lack of awareness and/or failure of insurance companies to cover.
  4. Apathy: The SCI community suffers from a lack of focus and energy when it comes to pushing for curative therapies.  We all know how living with SCI drains one’s physical, financial, and emotional resources.  And to date, we haven’t seen anything in the way of a tangible scientific breakthrough to galvanize the troops.

How can you or I address these challenges in a meaningful way?  First and foremost, and I know I’m repeating myself, STUDY THE SCIENCE!  For starters, you’ll need to understand the terminology.  The more reading you do, the more researchers you talk to, the more leaders you network with, the more you will get comfortable in the conversation.

Where to start?  Check out the U2FP Clinical Trials Table for continuous updates on what’s happening in the field and an introduction to acronyms.  Read our lay-friendly reports from recent lab visits with top researchers.  Join us at the Working 2 Walk Symposium in Irvine, California, this November.

We need people with knowledge and passion to join this fight and commit to the long-term.  If we can invent the atom bomb, if we can put humans on the moon, if we can map the human genome, surely we can repair the injured spinal cord.  It’s all about priorities.  Making a difference starts with us, and I look forward to the day when we don’t have to ask the question, “Why are we still paralyzed?”

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.”

The Technological Cure

May 31, 2011

In recent weeks we’ve seen the headlines “Paralyzed Student Walks at Graduation” and “Paralyzed Bride Walks Down Aisle”.  In these stories and others like them, the paralyzed person is able to “walk” using a robotic exoskeleton and computerized brain signals.  If you’re a fan of the television show “Glee”, you probably saw the December episode where Artie received a “ReWalk” for Christmas and miraculously got up and walked.

Considerable time and money is being invested in the pursuit of a “technological” cure.  When I talk with people who have spinal cord injuries, many of them look with disdain at this approach.  They don’t want to have to “flip a switch” or wear an exoskeleton in order to regain function.  They believe that our resources should instead be directed at stem cell therapies that hold the promise of regeneration and a true repair of the spinal cord.

What do you think?  This coming weekend I will attend the Spine Symposium and State of the Science portions of the annual International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) meeting.  The organizers are asking for consumer input to inform a research agenda for the next 10 years.  As we all know, research into curing SCI is massively underfunded.  Even as we work to increase that funding, where should we spend the precious time, money and energy that is available?


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