Sunday, February 27, 2011

A promise to Superman

Not many of us get to keep a promise to Superman, but a man visiting Auckland says he is on track.

When the star of Superman, Christopher Reeve, was paralysed from the neck down after falling off a horse in 1995, he challenged Dr Wise Young to find a cure that would make him walk again.

Young is leading clinical trials in China, the US, Norway and India that he believes will make this happen.

The cure will be too late for Reeve, who died in 2004, but Young asserts his research will bring hope to spinal injury sufferers who science previously wrote off as untreatable.

Young is the founding director of the W M Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience and a professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

"It's achievable not just within our lifetime, but within a few years," said Young. "It's a matter of getting the therapies that are making rats walk into humans."

Young has injected stem cells from umbilical cord blood and lithium into patients' damaged spinal cords. He expects the cells to migrate into the injury site and form a bridge.

Lithium is used to stimulate growth.

Young said patients would not need to be completely healed to regain their function. Restoring 10 per cent of the spinal cord would be enough to transform their lives - and even make them walk again.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wheelchair Access - There's an App for that?

Raul Krauthausen, who has used a wheelchair since childhood, has always been uncomfortable with the services Germany provides for the physically handicapped, like special taxis and grocery delivery - saying they feel patronizing and further isolate him from the able-bodied world.

So Krauthausen took matters into his own hands and launched, an iPhone application and website in German and English that allows users to share ratings and tips on how accessible shops, bars and other places are.

"Sometimes I feel I'm treated like a child who isn't allowed to decide specific things by myself," said the 30-year-old who suffers from a genetic disorder that makes his bones brittle. "I want to remain flexible and not be dependent on when a driving service has time to pick me up."

It turned out he wasn't the only one who felt that way. With some 300 new user-ratings daily, now has details on 30,000 locations. Around 80 percent of tagged spots are in Germany, but site ratings for cities like London and New York are slowly growing, Krauthausen said.

" wants to help show people with mobility impairments everything that's achievable," he said.

Krauthausen attributes Wheelmap's success to its availability as an iPhone application and the "Wiki principle" - the idea that anyone, anywhere can contribute. Users rate locations without registering, but must log in to add specific comments.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cool new procedure might help next guy

A relatively new treatment protocol is providing nearly miraculous results for some victims of spinal cord injuries, reports the Miami Herald. In the case of one 20-year-old gymnast from Florida, hypothermic treatment before surgery appears to have prevented profound paralysis and put him back on his feet just days after the accident.

The young gymnast, a state champion, was practicing for an audition with the Cirque de Soleil when a double flip went badly wrong. He missed and landed squarely on his head.

The young man sustained a bilateral dislocation of his spinal cord. When he arrived at the hospital, he was experiencing a near complete loss of sensation and motor control in his hands, arms and legs, according to doctors at the University of Miami medical school.

The prognosis wasn't good. With this type of injury, two of his vertebrae were dislocated and the spinal cord was being compressed by swelling. The spinal cord is a closed environment, so there is no room for swelling as there is in other injuries. Most patients won't walk again.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Would that require rosemary or dill?

A 16-year-old boy Upper Chichester athlete who suffered a bruised spine in a high school wrestling accident will remain in the temporary custody of the county office of Children and Youth Services and Jefferson Hospital, a county official said yesterday.

The case of Mazzerati Mitchell was the focus of a several-hours-long hearing before county Judge Mary Alice Brennan. All sides declined to comment after the hearing, but county Solicitor John McBlain finally confimed the youth, injured in an Upper Chichester High School wrestling practice, will remain in county custody.

McBlain indicated the boy's parents, Jack and Vermell Mitchell, have until Thursday to determine if they will allow the hospital to move ahead with surgery on his back injury. The parents, who are believers in herbal medicine, have resisted the efforts of doctors at Jefferson Hospital.

McBlain indicated neurosurgeons at Jefferson and elsewhere remain resolute in the need for the surgery. He indicted the hospital has consuled with six neurosurgeons and all agree with the need for surgery.

Mazzerati remains in stable condition.

McBlain indicated that a decision will be made by Thursday by the judge. He said that no hearing has yet been set, awaiting whether the

Mitchells present the judge with information about other potential remedies.

If in the interim an emergency were to develop affecting the boy’s treatment, then CYS has the authority to make the decision, McBlain said.

But he stressed that at this stage that is not an issue.

“If by Thursday morning no second contrary opinion is received, then a court decision will be made as to allowing the surgery,’’ said McBlain.

The Mitchells declined comment after conferring with their attorney.

Another hearing to determine custody likely will be held in the future, McBlain said.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quadriplegic Sets Typing World Record

Seattle startup Swype has another Guinness World Record involving its text input technology.

A Texas man paralyzed by a hang-gliding accident used Swype with a special head-tracking device to set the record for fastest hands-free typing by someone paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Hank Torres, who was injured 30 years ago, used the setup on a Windows 7 PC.

He took 83.09 seconds to enter the standard Guinness phrase used for these record attempts, "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human."

Torres is an engineer who uses Swype to write down his inventions, including several patented wheelchair products, according to Swype's press release today.

The record was announced Friday in Orlando, Fla., at the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference. It follows a record for standard texting set last year by a Swype employee.

See the gripping video.