Health Watch -- Spinal Cord Research

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New research projects may lead to improved methods of treating spinal cord injuries.

Spinal cord injuries can have serious consequences, including paralysis and long-term mobility problems. Because these injuries are so serious, doctors often have their hands full just treating the consequences. But researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are developing a clinical research program aimed at bringing laboratory research to the patient's bedside to see how research breakthroughs work in the real world.

Treatment for spinal cord injuries starts the moment a patient arrives at the hospital, when specialists work to stabilize patients in the emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit. Treatment continues with inpatient rehabilitation for recent injuries and patients hospitalized with chronic injuries. There are also outpatient specialists who address extended physical and neurological care for patients. The UT Southwestern program will encompass all of these phases.

Dr. Keith Tansey, who will be coordinating the clinical research program, says the goal is to find ways to prevent spinal cord injuries from causing irreversible damage. If doctors can learn how to repair or retrain the spinal cord, it may be possible to effectively treat paralysis. That could also have implications for other disorders that affect the brain and spinal cord.