Wednesday, January 27, 2010

But Can He Talk and Drive the Chair at the Same Time?

Spinal cord injury patient Cruise Bogle controls mobility with tongue

Skimboarding in Florida ended sadly for Cruise Bogle when a wave whipped his board out from under him and sent him crashing into the ocean floor, breaking his neck. Since then, Bogle has been paralyzed from the neck down, but new technology promises to restore some of his movement.

During his stay at a hospital in Atlanta, the man was tapped to test a new wheelchair developed by engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology. It is powered by the patient's tongue because that organ is connected to the brain directly, rather than through the spinal cord, and so remains functional even in quadriplegics, according to CNN.

Bogle's tongue was fitted with a small magnet that works like a mouse pad, with the tongue as the cursor. Moving the tongue forward sends a wireless signal to sensors in a special headset that causes the wheelchair to move forward, while moving the tongue back causes the opposite movement.

"It was awkward at first to control a wheelchair with my tongue, but it got easier as I went on," the 20-year-old told the news provider, adding that the technology is "amazing."

According to the Travis Roy Foundation, which is dedicated to spinal cord injury research, between 250,000 - 400,000 Americans are living with this type of injury and more than 13,000 new cases are reported each year.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that individuals may reduce their risk of a spinal cord injury by driving safely, exercising caution around firearms, preventing falls, and taking precautions when playing sports.

Another organization that can help survivors live thriving lives despite their disability is the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

First U.S. Stem Cells Transplanted into Spinal Cord

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- For the first time in the United States, stem cells have been directly injected into the spinal cord of a patient, researchers announced Thursday.

Doctors injected stem cells from 8-week-old fetal tissue into the spine of a man in his early 60s who has advanced ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was part of a clinical trial designed to determine whether it is safe to inject stem cells into the spinal cord and whether the cells themselves are safe.

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes the deterioration of specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurons, which control muscle movement. About 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time, according to the ALS Association.

There is no cure for ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the New York Yankees' first baseman and Hall of Famer who retired from baseball in the 1930s after being diagnosed with the disease.

As the illness progresses, patients lose their ability to walk, talk and breathe. Patients usually die within two to five years of diagnosis, according the ALS Association.

Neuralstem Inc., a Rockville, Maryland-based biotech company, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct the clinical trial in September. The company is fully funding the research and provides the stem cells that are being injected into the patients.

Neuralstem announced the start of the clinical trial in a news release Thursday.

Longtime ALS researcher and University of Michigan neurologist Dr. Eva Feldman is overseeing the first human clinical trial of a stem cell treatment in ALS patients.

"We are entering a new era of cell therapeutics for ALS, and in my opinion, it is an new era of hope for patients with ALS," Feldman said.

At least 12 patients are expected to participate in this early research. They are to receive the stem cell transplants at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

"This is the first study to see if the invasive injection into the spinal cord is safe for the patient," said Lucie Bruijn, science director of the ALS Association.

This first patient in the clinical trial received several injections of stem cells into the lumbar region of the spinal cord, the area that controls leg function, because most ALS patients first lose muscle function in their legs, according to Karl Johe, Neuralstem's chairman and chief scientific officer.

Bruijn says there have been a few other occasions outside the United States in which fetal stem cells have been injected into a patient, "but not necessarily using a very [rigorous] trial design." She adds that there were also a couple of small studies in Italy that injected other types of stem cells into a few patients but that this is the first FDA-approved trial in the United States.

"Our biggest hope for stem cells is to significantly slow the progression the disease," Bruijn said.

The ALS Association is not providing funding for this clinical trial, but it has supported the work of Dr. Nick Boulis, the Emory neurosurgeon who developed the surgical technique used to inject the stem cells.

Johe invented the technology that allows the company to manufacture billions of copies of stem cells that are taken from a single source of spinal cord cells: cells that were extracted from fetal tissue, which was donated to the company.

"The cells are human neural stem cells," Johe said, acknowledging that the introduction of stem cells is a very invasive procedure.

"What we are attempting is a novel approach by directly injecting them into the middle of the spinal cord, which to our knowledge has never been done before," Johe said.

Researchers plan to follow this and future patients participating in this trial for a long time to determine the safety of the procedure.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Experts: Sitting Too Much Could be Deadly

Here's a new warning from health experts: Sitting is deadly.

Scientists are increasingly warning that sitting for prolonged periods — even if you also exercise regularly — could be bad for your health. And it doesn't matter where the sitting takes place — at the office, at school, in the car or before a computer or TV — just the overall number of hours it occurs.

Research is preliminary, but several studies suggest people who spend most of their days sitting are more likely to be fat, have a heart attack or even die.

In an editorial published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences suggested that authorities rethink how they define physical activity to highlight the dangers of sitting.

While health officials have issued guidelines recommending minimum amounts of physical activity, they haven't suggested people try to limit how much time they spend in a seated position.

"After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals," Ekblom-Bak said. She explained that genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down.

Even for people who exercise, spending long stretches of time sitting at a desk is still harmful. Tim Armstrong, a physical activity expert at the World Health Organization, said people who exercise every day — but still spend a lot of time sitting — might get more benefit if that exercise were spread across the day, rather than in a single bout.

That wasn't welcome news for Aytekin Can, 31, who works at a London financial company, and spends most of his days sitting in front of a computer. Several evenings a week, Can also teaches jiu jitsu, a Japanese martial art involving wrestling, and also does Thai boxing.

"I'm sure there are some detrimental effects of staying still for too long, but I hope that being active when I can helps," he said. "I wouldn't want to think the sitting could be that dangerous."

Still, in a study published last year that tracked more than 17,000 Canadians for about a dozen years, researchers found people who sat more had a higher death risk, independently of whether or not they exercised.

"We don't have enough evidence yet to say how much sitting is bad," said Peter Katzmarzyk of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, who led the Canadian study. "But it seems the more you can get up and interrupt this sedentary behavior, the better."

Figures from a U.S. survey in 2003-2004 found Americans spend more than half their time sitting, from working at their desks to sitting in cars.

Experts said more research is needed to figure out just how much sitting is dangerous, and what might be possible to offset those effects.

"People should keep exercising because that has a lot of benefits," Ekblom-Bak said. "But when they're in the office, they should try to interrupt sitting as often as possible," she said. "Don't just send your colleague an e-mail. Walk over and talk to him. Standing up."


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Underwater Treadmill Proves Rehab Benefit

Physical therapist Sandra Stevens first explored the use of underwater treadmills at Middle Tennessee State University with children suffering from cerebral palsy. She hypothesized that the underwater system might also have profound benefits for spinal cord injury patients struggling to relearn how to walk and move. Stevens noted dramatic improvement in endurance in patients who used the treadmills as part of their rehabilitation program. She said, “So they’ve gone from four or five minutes of walking to 32 or 34 minutes. That’s a big improvement,” in a DNA India article.
Stevens’ research has already helped a handful of spinal cord injury survivors to relearn to walk after suffering from full or partial paralysis. A Newswise article reported on the cases of three of Stevens’ patients: Jim Harris, Bob Moody, and Janette Rodgers; all three of them have relearned how to walk with the help of underwater treadmills.

Harris survived a plane crash, Moody fell and became paralyzed two years ago, and Rodgers broke her neck in a car accident in mid-2009. The Newswise article reported, “For spinal-cord injuries, walking in water is the ideal place because people with this particular injury have a blunted cardiovascular response to any exercise, Stevens explained. Walking in water produces greater blood flow, which increases cardiovascular activity, she said.”

Since the use of underwater treadmills does not require any kind of FDA approval, the rehabilitation method has witnessed a rapid gain in popularity in various and sometimes-strange places around the U.S. A basketball player for Ohio State University was able to recover and return to play after a fall left him with broken bones in his back. Yahoo Sports reported that Evan Turner missed just six games while recovering from his injury. “Turner said he spent 30-40 minutes each day in the pool running on an underwater treadmill. His body responded well enough that he stopped taking painkillers earlier than expected,” the article noted.

A basketball training facility in Mississippi is being completed this year with an underwater treadmill for athletes to use while recovering from minor to more serious injuries. A state of the art rehabilitation center in Wyoming has plans to include an underwater treadmill as part of their new expanding facility.

Another article reported that even some high-tech veterinarian facilities provide shallow underwater treadmills for obese dogs to use for moving safely and losing weight. The method holds tremendous promise for spinal cord injury survivors around the world. Because the method is relatively inexpensive, it is likely that more and more training and rehabilitation facilities will provide underwater treadmills as an effective and viable option for their patients.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Music Loses a Legend, SCI Loses another Hero


Teddy Pendergrass, one of R&Bs favorite sons, and a superstar of the 1970s and 1980s, sings his way home.

It's 1972 and there's a crackling fire in the fireplace, some Lancer's on the table, and smooth, soulful sounds are pouring out of the radio. You can bet it's Teddy Pendergrass whose voice is behind it.

But the voice and the man are both silent now as Pendergrass, 59, succumbed to a prolonged illness on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Pa., where the Grammy-winner had been hospitalized since August.

How many babies were made to his brand of R&B featuring his strong, stirring and sexy style?

A lot.

Considering that his voice was on 10 consecutive platinum-selling albums, his appeal crossed racial lines and his triumph over tragedy following a car accident in 1982 which left him a paraplegic, brought Pendergrass worldwide acclaim.

His activism with the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, which formed a partnership with the National Spinal Cord
Injury Association, has helped others in their recovery from spinal cord injuries.

Some of his most famous No.1 hits included: "Close the Door," "Turn Off the Lights," "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "Love T.K.O.," which helped earn him five Grammy nominations, as his raw sensuality  and sex appeal created Beatles-level hysteria.

"Teddy Pendergrass was one of the greatest artists that the music industry has ever known, and there hasn't been another one since. We've lost our voice and we've lost our best friend, but we're thankful for what we had. It was beautiful. He was one of the best," said producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who worked with their friend in bringing soul music from Philadelphia ("The Sound of Philadelphia") to the world.

The man might be gone, but his voice will live on, insuring that he will never be forgotten.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alas, Wheelchair Bandit Subdued by Robot

Heart of a Dragon: Coming to a Theatre Near You This Summer

“Heart of a Dragon” is based on the true story of Rick Hansen. At age 16, Hansen sustained a spinal cord injury and would never walk again. The film chronicles his two-year journey, The Man in Motion World Tour, which took him across 34 countries in four continents, to raise funds for spinal cord injury research.

The movie, with an official release scheduled for this summer, will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Carmike Cinemas. Tickets are $10 and are available in advance through the disAbility Resource Center. Call 815-6618 or stop by the dRC, 140-A Cinema Drive, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Official Site...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Travel in Wheelchair to China , Walk Home

Chinese researchers have become the world's fifth most prolific contributors to peer-reviewed scientific literature on clock-reversing regenerative medicine even as a skeptical international research community condemns the practice of Chinese clinics administering unproven stem cell therapies to domestic and foreign patients.

According to a study by the Canadian-based McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health (MRC), published today by the UK journal Regenerative Medicine, China's government is pouring dollars generously into regenerative medicine (RM) research and aggressively recruiting high-calibre scientists trained abroad in pursuit of its ambition to become a world leader in the field.

And its strategy is working: Chinese contributions to scientific journals on RM topics leapt from 37 in year 2000 to 1,116 in 2008, exceeded only by the contributions of experts in the USA, Germany, Japan and the UK.

The accomplishment is all the more astonishing given that China's international credibility has been and still is severely hindered by global concerns surrounding Chinese clinics, where unproven therapies continue to be administered to thousands of patients.

New rules to govern such treatments were recently instituted but need to be strictly enforced in order to repair China's global reputation, according to MRC authors Dominique S. McMahon, Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, Peter A. Singer and Abdallah S. Daar.

They drew their conclusions after having gained unprecedented access to almost 50 Chinese researchers, policy makers, clinicians, company executives and regulators for interviews. The research was made possible by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

"When you look at the issue of stem cells in China, you see the Yin-Yang of a scientific powerhouse mixed with controversial clinical application of stem cell therapies," says Dr. Singer, MRC's Director. "The overall picture at the moment is ambiguous but in the future, given the measures that have been put in place, the science can be expected to rise and the controversy to fall."

Regenerative medicine an interdisciplinary field of research and clinical applications focused on the repair, replacement or regeneration of cells, tissues or organs to restore impaired function resulting from any cause, including congenital defects, disease, trauma and aging. It uses a combination of several converging technological approaches, both existing and newly emerging, that moves it beyond traditional transplantation and replacement therapies. The approaches often stimulate and support the body's own self-healing capacity. These approaches may include the use of soluble molecules, gene therapy, stem cell transplants, tissue engineering, and the reprogramming of cell and tissue types.

MRC researchers report that until May 2009 clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of stem cell therapies were not required. Now proof of safety and efficacy through clinical trials is required by China's Ministry of Health for all stem cell and gene therapies.

The change was made after international experts, joined by top Chinese researchers, protested that treatment centers were acting "against commonly accepted principles of modern scientific research" and successfully called on China to regulate new treatments and ensure patient safety.

Despite the new rules, however, stem cell treatments are still available at over 200 hospitals across China to patients of diseases such as ataxia, Lou Gehrig's disease, traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, diabetes, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, optic nerve hypoplasia and many others.


2010 Will Be The Year of Regeneration

While the newswires crackle with Dick Cheney's latest display of cowardice and Sarah Palin's victimhood, the most important event of 2010 will hardly be mentioned: the dawn of the age of regenerative medicine, a new era for healthcare, and an even greater imperative for healthcare reform.

Sometime this year, ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom--where, we might recall, CT-scanners, MRI-scanners, and monoclonal antibodies were 'invented'--will inject human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into the retina of a patient suffering macular degeneration, a leading cause of near-blindness in the elderly. Currently, there are nearly 2 million people in the US with the disease, expected to grow to 3 million in just 10 years.

Studies with hESCs in an animal model of the disease have shown improved vision. When the first patient from the UK study demonstrates improved vision, the era of regenerative medicine will have been launched. Oh, yes, by the way, the UK also 'invented' in vitro fertilization, now a routine procedure worldwide, and from which the source--frozen embryos that are to be discarded--of the hESCs arises.

Of course, the UK need not have been first with hESC therapy, except that the US was saddled for 8 years with George Bush and for 6 of those years with the radical rightwing Republican Congress who not only divined that hESCs derived after a certain date in August 2001 were ungodly, but (and here is where the Republican Congress shone so brightly) passed two bills in the House making all hESC research illegal and authorizing the arrest of any US citizen who traveled abroad for hESC treatment. Just a wonderful crowd, weren't they? And, so focused on terrorism, weren't they? [Anyone who wants to remove the filibuster from the US Senate ought to consider what would have happened had the Republican Senate that had more than 50 votes, had blessed us with similar divine guidance].

Also this year, in the United States, patients with spinal cord injuries that would destine them for lives in wheelchairs will receive an injection of hESCs into their injured spinal cords. Studies of hESCs in animal models of spinal cord injury have shown remarkable recovery of function. When the first of these human patients wiggles his toes, the prospect of fulfilling Christopher Reeve's vision of walking again will become closer to reality--unfortunately, the hypocritical radical religio-politics of the "naughts" helped delay it so that Christopher himself could not live to experience it.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Deer Stands - Easy Path to Spinal Cord Injury

Hunters between the ages of 15 and 34 years old are the most likely to suffer serious injuries in tree stand-related incidents, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences.

In a study, presented online in the Journal of Trauma Injury, Infection and Critical Care, the researchers also reported that men were twice as likely as women to be injured in a hunting accident.

They collected data from the 2000-2007 National Electronic Injury Surveillance System established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The researchers reported that the number of Americans engaging in hunting has remained stable over the past decade, with 12.5 million hunters registered in 2006.

That same data noted that there were 46,860 reported injuries related to tree stand use between 2000 and 2007.

The most common injuries, the study reported, were fractures – most likely to occur in the hip or lower extremities. Injuries to the trunk, shoulder and upper extremities were less common. Head and spinal cord injuries were even less common, but still frequent enough to be considered significant.

Hunters between the ages of 15 and 24 years old had injury rates of 55.7 per 100,000, and those aged 25 to 34 years old averaged 61 injuries per 100,000. Hunters over 65 years of age had injury rates of only 22.4 per 100,000.

“The elevated injury rate among younger hunters is significant, because debilitating injuries in younger people are far more devastating than for older individuals because of the potential long-term effects that create both physical and financial hardships for patients and their families,” Gerald McGwin, Jr., MS, PhD, associate director for research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences and senior investigator for the study, stated in a press release.

Younger hunters, McGwin stated, may have higher injury rates due to a willingness to take risks. Additionally, they may have less exposure to safety information and spend more time hunting than older hunters.

Safety campaigns that recommend the use of safety harnesses and the regular maintenance of tree stands could aid in preventing future injuries, he concluded.


Friday, January 1, 2010

A Life Worth Living

For me, this time of year, as for so many others, is a time of reflection of the passed year, and what is to lie ahead. And while a surge of emotions hits me all at once, like a typhoon, I feel nothing, literally. I am paralyzed, by traditional medical definition. I have been paralyzed for seven years now, from a pool diving accident, and although that in and of itself was enough to catapult me into a deep, severe depression for years, it somehow left me and my personality intact, unscathed. What's most interesting about this is that the very second I snapped my spine into hundreds of shards, severing my spinal cord, I knew I'd be okay. I just knew it. It would be difficult and it would be hard, but there was this inner voice that told me, reassuringly, I'd come out on the other side actually better than before.

Most of what I've learned from my experience, from aging, and from questioning and meeting others is that there is no set way in leading and being happy in life being happy in life. The basis of it needs to stand on a firm ground, which is living my life according to my beliefs and making sure that that core is unshakable. But to get to this point was too difficult at times. To be told numerous times I'd probably die in a six hour span, then to wake up days later in an intensive care unit unable to feel or move 95 percent of my body, breathing with a large plastic tube in my throat, surrounded and attached to numerous medical devices I'd only presume would be life support, made me think it would be easier to die at times. But I didn't. I lived. Dying was a passing thought. But there was a lot of time to think about other more difficult questions: what is the point of my life, and what will make me live a happy life?

The three years following my injury were a blur. I didn't feel human, and in a sense, I hated myself. I couldn't look in a mirror, not even gaze out of a window, fearing the reflection of myself sitting in a wheelchair would be enough to propel me into a downward spiral of negative thought and unending tears. I felt like an idiot, not being able to drink a glass of water on my own, go to the bathroom alone, almost everything had to be assisted. I didn't take showers. I didn't get haircuts -- I'd shave my head bald. I wore the same paper hospital pants everyday, and the same ratty shirt for three years. I wanted to blend in. I didn't want people to look at me, talk to me, notice me, or even think about me. All I did was therapy, for seven to eight hours a day, followed by eating and sleeping. I gained 30 pounds and couldn't care less. And then, Christopher Reeve passed away.

Suddenly superman was dead. He did it all. He advocated for stem cell research, pushed for spinal cord injury research and now, he vanished. And suddenly, I was left with feeling emptiness, followed by a sense of irresponsibility. What had I done to fight for a cure? What had I done to advocate for others with disabilities? What had I done other than wallow in self-pity? In a matter of seconds, my attitude shifted and I realized I need to do something, anything! As I did that, all of a sudden I looked at my pants and ugly t-shirt and, finally, in a mirror, and I saw a different person. This wasn't me. My skin was red, flaky, grey in spots, oily in some; I looked like a mess. I didn't even want to spend time with myself, so why would anyone else?