Neuroscientists at the University of Alberta recently made significant discoveries about spinal injuries which could lead to new treatment options. Specifically, the research focused on the role blood flow and oxygen play in motor function post-injury. Healthcare workers and spinal cord injury lawyers are understandably excited about the potential of this new information.

“The biggest finding is really that we found that blood vessels, these capillaries, are controlled by cells that nobody really knew anything about,” Karim Fouad, Canada Research Chair in spinal cord injury and a co-author of the study told the Edmonton Journal. “Just that knowledge opens so many windows, so many opportunities for treatments of various diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord.”

Previous research suggested that limited post-injury blood flow to the spinal cord was a temporary problem; the University of Alberta team believes they have evidence to the contrary and have identified ‘pericytes,’ tiny cells that wrap around blood vessels, as the source of this issue.

“It turns out the blood flow below a spinal cord injury – the whole length of the spinal cord below an injury – is permanently impaired because of these pericytes excessively contracting,” explained the study’s co-senior author, David Bennett.

The discovery has allowed the research team to propose new treatments for spinal cord injury symptoms, including delivering high oxygen levels to the affected areas and administering drugs to improve blood flow. Lab rats are reacting positively to some of the treatments.

Impact of the new findings

Spinal injuries are a common issue in Canada, as spinal cord injury lawyers understand acutely. Around 600 new injuries occur each year in Ontario each year, and about 1,500 occur coast-to-coast. Overall, more than 86,000 Canadians, including more than 33,000 Ontarians, are currently living with spinal cord injuries. These afflictions cost the country approximately $3.6-billion per year, including $1.8-billion in direct healthcare costs.

According to Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO), there are two prevailing causes of spinal injuries: falls, and car accidents. Spinal cord injury lawyers are accustomed to dealing with cases involving these types of incidents, and understand the enormous physical, emotional, and financial burden a serious spinal injury can have on the victims’ family, friends, and community.

As researchers like Karim Fouad, David Bennett, and the team at the University of Alberta continue to study this important subject, healthcare workers expect spinal injury victims’ quality of life to steadily improve. Indeed, the Rick Hansen Institute estimates that up to 90 per cent of what is known about spinal cord injuries has been discovered over the past two decades.