Spinal Stimulation Helps Patients with
Paraplegia Regain Movement
Study participant Kent Stephenson voluntarily raises his leg while his spinal stimulator is active.
Photo: University of Louisville
Four people with paraplegia are able to voluntarily move previously paralyzed muscles as a result of a novel therapy that involves electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, according to a study funded in part by NIH and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
The participants, each of whom had been paralyzed for more than 2 years, were able to voluntarily flex their toes, ankles and knees while the stimulator was active; the movements were enhanced over time when combined with physical rehabilitation. Researchers involved in the study say the therapy has the potential to change the prognosis of people with paralysis even years after injury.
“When we first learned that a patient had regained voluntary control as a result of spinal stimulation, we were cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which provided support for the study. “Now that spinal stimulation has been successful in 4 out of 4 patients, there is evidence to suggest that a large cohort of individuals, previously with little realistic hope of any meaningful recovery from spinal cord injury, may benefit from this intervention.”
One of the most impressive and unexpected findings of the study is that two of the patients who benefited from spinal stimulation had complete motor and sensory paralysis. In these patients, the pathway that sends information about sensation from the legs to the brain is disrupted, in addition to the pathway that sends information from the brain to the legs in order to control movement. The researchers were surprised by the outcome; they had assumed that at least some of the sensory pathway needed to be intact for the therapy to be effective.
The report was published in the Apr. 8 online issue of Brain.
Obesity Primes the Colon for Cancer, Says NIH Study
Obesity, rather than diet, causes changes in the colon that may lead to colorectal cancer, according to a study in mice by NIH. The finding bolsters the recommendation that calorie control and frequent exercise are not only key to a healthy lifestyle, but also a strategy to lower the risk for colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.
Drs. Paul Wade and Thomas Eling, scientists at NIEHS, led a collaborative team that made the discovery. The study appeared online Apr. 1 in the journal Cell Metabolism.
A large body of scientific literature says people who are obese are predisposed to a number of cancers, particularly colorectal cancer, Eling said. The researchers want to find out exactly how obesity prompts the body to develop colorectal cancer. Wade said that the likely candidates for triggering tumor growth in the colon are fat cells, but there are many more possibilities. Finding these cellular switches may give rise to production of medications to keep people from getting colorectal cancer.
“Once we identify the signaling pathways and understand how the signal is transduced, we may be able to design ways to treat colorectal cancer in obese patients,” Wade said.
Aspirin Does Not Prevent Pregnancy Loss, NIH Study Finds
A daily low dose of aspirin does not appear to prevent subsequent pregnancy loss among women with a history of one or two prior pregnancy losses, according to researchers at NIH.
However, in a smaller group of women who had experienced a single recent pregnancy loss, aspirin increased the likelihood of becoming pregnant and having a live birth.
Many health care providers prescribe low-dose aspirin therapy for women who have had a pregnancy loss (miscarriage or stillbirth) and who would like to get pregnant again. However, the effectiveness of this treatment has not been proven, the researchers wrote.
“Our results indicate that aspirin is not effective for reducing the chances of pregnancy loss in most cases,” said first author Dr. Enrique Schisterman, chief of NICHD’s Epidemiology Branch. He added, however, that additional research was needed to investigate the finding that women who had experienced a single, recent pregnancy loss (before 4½ months of pregnancy and within the past year) had an increased rate of pregnancy and live birth while on aspirin therapy.
The findings appeared in The Lancet.