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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on spinal cord injury

October 10, 2017

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury Fact SheetSpinal cord injuries (SCIs) impair the brain's ability to send messages to the rest of the body. These injuries can result in paralysis, loss of feeling, chronic pain, and other serious medical problems below the site of injury. SCIs are estimated to affect as many as 337,000 Americans, with about 12,500 new injuries occurring each year. VA provides care to more than 27,000 Veterans with SCIs and related disorders each year, making the department the largest health care system in the world providing lifelong spinal cord care.


VA Researchers Who Served

Dr. Rory Coooper

Dr. Rory Cooper

Nearly four decades ago, Rory Cooper was forced to take a new direction in life. The Army sergeant was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in Frankenthal, Germany. A spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to build a distinguished career, with a focus on creating and refining technologies to improve the lives of Veterans and others with spinal cord injury.

Research Partner News

It's not a rat's race for human stem cells grafted to repair spinal cord injuries

It's not a rat's race for human stem cells grafted to repair spinal cord injuries

More than one-and-a-half years after implantation, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the VA San Diego Healthcare System report that human neural stem cells (NSCs) grafted into spinal cord injuries in laboratory rats displayed continued growth and maturity, with functional recovery beginning one year after grafting.

VA Research News Briefs

Lower-extremity neuroprostheses continue to function in the long term

Lower-extremity neuroprostheses continue to function in the long term - Photo: ©iStock/kali9Photo: ©iStock/kali9

Neuroprostheses to allow patients with spinal cord injuries to stand were still functioning and useful several years after being implanted, found a Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center research team. The researchers followed up with 22 patients with lower-extremity neuroprostheses an average of six years after they had the devices implanted. The neuroprostheses cause otherwise paralyzed muscles to contract by providing electrical impulses through implanted electrodes, allowing patients to stand. Being able to stand has many health benefits, such as improved circulation, bowel and bladder function, and digestion. Sixty percent of the patients still used their neuroprostheses for exercise and other activities for more than 10 minutes per day. First-generation implants still functioned correctly in 90 percent of patients with those devices. Second-generation implants (with slightly improved technology) still functioned in 98 percent of cases. Overall, 94 percent of the patients were satisfied with the prostheses. The findings suggest that implanted lower-extremity neuroprostheses can provide lasting benefits for patients, say the researchers. (Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Sept. 9, 2017)

Drug-resistant bacteria on the rise in patients with spinal cord injury

Drug-resistant bacteria on the rise in patients with spinal cord injury - Photo: ©iStock/ScharvikPhoto: ©iStock/Scharvik

Patients with spinal cord injury and related disorders are at an increased risk of drug-resistant bacterial infection, according to a study of 130 VA medical centers. Researchers found that more than a third of gram-negative bacterial infections found in patients over a nine-year period were drug-resistant. Over that period, drug-resistant strains of bacteria became increasingly common. Infections may be more common in spinal cord injury patients because of altered bodily function as a result of the injury. Infections may also be diagnosed later than usual because of the loss of sensation. Priority should be given to controlling the spread of resistant bacteria and studying epidemiologic trends in spinal cord injury patients, say the researchers. (Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, Feb. 15, 2017)

VA Research Currents

Study suggests biomarkers could help ward off pressure ulcers for spinal cord injury patients

Research participants try out the ReWalk at the Bronx VA Medical Center during a visit by Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis, Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force.

A team including a VA researcher pinpointed two proteins—one in the blood, the other in the urine—that appear to warn of the risk of pressure ulcers in patients with spinal cord injury. Testing for the biomarkers could help in efforts to prevent the sores, which affect about a third of SCI patients during their initial hospitalization. Pressure ulcers are a serious problem for patients with spinal cord injuries and others with limited mobility.


Paralyzed Veterans use robotic device to assist walking

A Veteran competes in the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Research shows that about a third of people with spinal cord injuries end up needing three or more hospitalizations during their lifetime for treatment of pressure sores.

Veteran Gene Laureano is paralyzed from the waist down, but he's back on his feet thanks to a wearable robotic exoskeleton. The ReWalk 6.0 provides powered hip and knee motion to help paraplegics stand upright, walk, turn, and climb stairs. VA researchers are performing a nationwide study to learn more about exoskeletons and their impact on quality of life.


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