Every year, more than 500,000 Americans suffer a spinal cord injury with life-altering effects. Damaged spinal cord nerves are notoriously known for their tremendous impact on patients’ lives, sometimes with lifelong consequences. But can they regenerate with available treatments?
Do Spinal Cord Nerves Regenerate?
Spinal cord nerves are wire-like structures that transport sensory and motor impulses from the brain and back. These delicate fibers will try to regenerate after cuts or compression, but they often fail to grow back on their own. Unlike other types of nerves in the human body, spinal cord nerves are less likely to heal without intervention due to many inhibiting factors. Two of those factors are the nerves’ cellular processes and scar tissue.
In general, nerves in the limbs, chest, or nose do regenerate, but they rarely fully recover after major trauma. Sensory nerves are the most likely to make a full recovery even after many years. On the other hand, spinal cord nerves are the least likely to recover without intervention because they cannot regenerate. That is why most patients with damaged spinal cord nerves will never make a full recovery and are left with a lifetime of disability, including paralysis.
Around half of people affected by spinal cord injuries report a “complete” loss of function of parts of their bodies. This means that the body areas connected to the damaged spinal nerves lose the motor and sensory function entirely after an accident or illness that has damaged the nerves.
The lucky patients who only partially lose the function of an area of the body after an injury to their spinal cord nerves can sometimes recover part of the lost function but never make a full recovery. The groundbreaking therapies trying to restore lost or impaired bodily functions after major damage to spinal cord nerves include electronic implants, but those remain experimental.
Available & Emerging Therapies
When trying to address damage to spinal cord nerves, there are at least three approaches:
- Tackling the factors preventing the nerves to regenerate, such as scar tissue.
- Altering the nerves’ own internal mechanisms that prevent cells from regenerating after major trauma.
- Stem cell therapy that is designed to shield the damaged spinal cord nerves from being attacked by the immune system.
The most promising of these approaches is the therapy with mesenchymal stem cells because these cells can shield the nerves from further damage and promote nerve and blood vessel regeneration where damage has been done. However, this type of therapy is still in its infancy and has been proven effective only in animals.
Researchers are confident that a popular cancer drug, epothilone, can spur spinal cord nerve regeneration like very few other therapies can and with very few to no side effects. According to a recent study, epothilone prevents cancer cells from multiplying in large doses, but in low doses, it seems to promote spinal cord nerve growth.
Lead researcher Jörg Ruschel believes that epothilone’s newly found health benefit is due to the drug’s ability to bypass the blood-brain barrier like very few similar meds can to get straight into the central nervous system (CNS) and address the nerve damage.
Epothilone can also prevent the formation of scar tissue cells that usually hamper spinal cord nerve regeneration after a severe accident. Recent studies have shown that animals can regain part of their lost function, unlike their peers that didn’t receive epothilone. The cancer drug also seems to give harmed animals a significant boost in the coordination and balance departments. Research is still ongoing, but the emerging treatment looks very promising as is.
Once damaged, spinal cord nerves don’t regenerate on their own as there are several growth-inhibiting factors that scientists are currently working on. Even though promising, new therapies are just around the corner, the life of people affected by a severe spinal cord injury is never going to be the same.
Treatments, special equipment, and disability accommodation at home and in the workplace don’t come cheap, while your physical pain and emotional suffering can have a price tag too. You don’t have to shoulder the costs alone. Talk to a personal injury attorney to see your chances of getting compensation for your injuries and pain. Contact Jacoby & Meyers Law Offices for a free case evaluation today!