Researchers Working On An “EpiPen” For Spine Injuries

Category: Spinal Cord Injury | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: July 23, 2019

Spine Injuries

For individuals with a bee allergy, an EpiPen can be a literal lifesaver. The pen is designed to release epinephrine in the bloodstream, and that chemical helps to narrow blood vessels and open airways in the lungs, as breathing can often become difficult following an allergic reaction. But what if we could develop an EpiPen-style device that could provide instant care when other severe or traumatic events occur? We may be on the brink of answering that question thanks to researchers out of the University of Michigan.

When a person suffers a spinal cord injury, the body’s immune response sends cells to the damaged area to clear debris and help begin the regeneration process. In the central nervous system, there exists a blood-brain barrier that prevents immune activity from making it to the damaged area. The problem occurs because the spinal cord injury breaks that barrier, which means immune cells flooding to the injured area do their job and create too much-localized inflammation. This inflammation damages neurons and forms scars that prevent the regeneration of nerve cells, ultimately leading to paralysis and the loss of physical sensation.

How A Spinal EpiPen Would Work

Researchers say they’ve developed an EpiPen for spinal cord injuries that has shown positive results in mice. The injection includes nanoparticles that intercept immune cells on their way to the spinal cord and redirects them away from the injury, and those that do make it to the spinal cord are altered to become more pro-regenerative.

Also, due to the characteristics of the nanoparticles, the injection can avoid some of the unwanted side effects previously seen in other types of injections used to help following a spinal cord injury (certain steroids were helpful but also increased the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and blood clots). When the injection is administered correctly, there are fewer immune cells at the trauma location, which reduces inflammation and tissue deterioration.

“Hopefully this technology could lead to new therapeutic strategies not only for patients with spinal cord injury but for those with various inflammatory diseases,” said Jonghyuck Park, a research fellow at the University of Michigan.

The technology is a new twist on how nanoparticles are being used to advance medical technology. In the past, nanoparticles have helped to mitigate the effects of both multiple sclerosis and West Nile Virus.

If the technology proves to be beneficial in future human trials, you can bet that emergency personnel will begin carrying these injections with them when they respond to accidents and other injuries. Time is crucial following a spinal cord injury, so if this injection can help to prevent problematic inflammation while the patient is in route to the medical center, it has the potential to make a huge difference in their functional capacity when all is said and done. Considering more than 12,000 people suffer spinal cord injuries every year, this injection could be a gamechanger in the spine care community. We’ll keep an eye on the EpiPen as it continues to move through clinical trials.

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