OHSU

Nerve & Spinal Cord Injury

Acute spinal cord injury is a catastrophic battlefield injury that frequently ends in permanent paralysis and life-long disability. A recent review of a US Army Brigade Combat Team’s tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom found that blunt trauma to the spine caused 65% of spine injuries. Trauma to the spinal cord also is a devastating result of civilian trauma with 12,000 cases of spinal cord injury occurring annually and approximately 200,000 spinal cord injury survivors in the US living with a permanent disability.

Less than 1% of patients with significant spinal cord injury recover complete neurologic function. When acute spinal cord injury occurs via blunt trauma, the tissues within the spinal canal swell (edema); pressure within the canal increases rapidly, causing a neurosurgical kind of compartment syndrome injury. We are developing a treatment using allogenic (adult human stem cells, cultivated from another person) mesenchymal stem cells to prevent the spinal cord injury. This treatment may safely and successfully prevent permanent injury and paralysis that follows many spinal cord injuries.

We are also working on a project to regenerate peripheral nerves that have been damaged due to acute spinal cord injury, limb compartment syndrome, or diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Schwann cells nourish and repair nerves, and provide the myelin lining to speed nerve conduction. One of our senior scientists has recently published research showing that we can take bone marrow cells and transform them into these useful Schwann cells—a discovery that may lead to injection of the cells into injured nerves to facilitate regeneration and repair.