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New treatment hope emerges for spinal cord injuries

Whenever a prescription drug is created, researchers find that it has unintended consequences. Virtually every drug on the market has side effects that can cause unintended problems of one sort or another for some users. Sometimes, however, the unintended consequences can be beneficial to the user.

Researchers now hope that the cancer treatment drug known as Taxol can be used to stimulate the growth of nerves in the spine after a spinal cord injury. While they caution that more study of Taxol is needed, early results on the chemotherapy drug are promising.

MSNBC reports that Taxol also helps prevent scarring in the spinal nerve cells known as axons. Typically, after a spinal cord injury these slender groups of nerves are unable to regenerate for a number of reasons.

The body itself signals the cells that they’re not to grow, but Taxol can get the cells to ignore the chemical instructions and regenerate. Because it also helps prevent scarring, its beneficial qualities for the spinal cord injury victim might be doubled.

Researchers have used low doses of the drug in treatments of lab rats with spinal cord injuries. At that dosage, it doesn’t prevent scarring and it doesn’t encourage growth. But at the levels typical of cancer treatments, the drug’s beneficial side effects kick in, stimulating growth and decreasing scarring that prevents growth.

After up to eight weeks of treatments, the injured rats showed significantly better movement and could perform a walking test.

Researchers said their preliminary studies need to be expanded to include humans and then reevaluated.

Resource: MSNBC: “Cancer drug may help spinal cord injuries”: January 27, 2011

John P. Aldrich
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