In general, people who suffer from spinal cord injuries have very little hope.
Their chances of improving from complete paralysis to partial paralysis are about 1 in 20, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. In the grander scheme of things, treatment for healing or reversing paralysis is basically nonexistent.
That is, until recently.
A new innovation from Invivo Therapeutics might change the game.
The company’s invention is called a Neuro-Spinal Scaffold, and it’s smaller in size than a quarter. However, this little contraption could help people with spinal injuries regain the use of their paralyzed limbs.
The scaffold is implanted within the spinal cord of the affected patient. But how does it work?
How a New Spinal Implant Could Give Hope for Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal scaffold is a unique device that looks relatively unassuming. It’s cylindrical in shape and smaller than a coin.
It’s made of a material that is bioresorbable, which just means that the scaffold will eventually dissolve and get absorbed by the body. This also means that once it’s implanted, a second surgery is not required to remove it.
The material is also biocompatible with living tissue, as its purpose is to help regenerate damaged nerves and prevent scarring that could further impair the spinal cord.
How Does the Implant Work?
In general, the Neuro-Spinal Scaffold works as a 3D bandage, providing support and guidance for tissue and nerve regrowth.
However, there is a caveat: In order to work, the scaffold must be implanted in a patient’s spinal cord within 96 hours of the initial injury.
In about six weeks, the device dissolves. But, to see results from the treatment, patients must wait several months or longer.
Eventually, patients may begin to regain feeling in their formerly paralyzed limbs or extremities.
Very few patients have had spinal implants with the scaffold device so far, but clinical trials and studies are still underway to evaluate its effectiveness as a treatment for spinal cord injuries.
Who Invented the Paralysis Treatment?
The inventors of this spinal treatment are Robert Langer and Frank Reynolds, who co-founded Invivo Therapeutics in 2005.
Robert Langer is a professor at MIT and a prolific inventor – he has over 400 patents under his belt. Frank Reynolds himself suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him in the ‘90s, but he has since recovered.
More Information About Spinal Injury Treatments
Before the innovations of today existed, there were few, if any, ways to regenerate the nerves and tissues of the spine once they had been damaged.
Spinal treatments in the past have relied on stabilization immediately after the injury to prevent further damage to the spinal cord, physical therapy to help the patient adjust to their new way of life, and medication to lessen any pain.
Treatment at the Scene of the Injury
When emergency responders arrive at the scene of a spinal injury, they will usually take care to immobilize the spine and make sure it doesn’t move.
Often, a patient will have a shattered spine with bone shards that could do further damage to the spinal cord. There is also a possibility of pressure on the spine causing additional harm.
Treatment at the Hospital
Once at the hospital, the patient will usually need surgery so doctors can remove any bone fragments or foreign objects, and stabilize the spine with braces and/or traction.
What’s the Outlook for Spinal Injury Patients?
Patients with spinal injuries who aren’t willing to try new treatments will need a long time to recover and rehabilitate.
They will need continuous physical therapy and will need to learn to use devices like leg braces, wheelchairs, or walkers.
On top of all that, depending on the extent of their injury, they will need to learn new strategies and techniques for caring for themselves, including dressing and bathing.
Other Novel Treatments for Spinal Injuries Currently Being Evaluated
For patients willing to test new treatments, there are a number of clinical trials underway.
Along with the Neuro-Spinal Scaffold clinical trial, the use of human spinal cord stem cells, various experimental drugs, and devices are being tested on patients with spinal cord injuries.
For instance, an organization called Neuralstem is currently testing the safety of stem cell transplants from human spinal cords for treating chronic spinal cord injury. About eight participants have undergone experimental surgery since 2014, when the study began.
Hope Is on the Horizon for Paralysis Treatment
With the advent of new innovations in spinal injury treatments, the future is looking decidedly more hopeful for those affected. This is great news for a field of medicine that previously had few answers for its patients.