A drug already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has shown promise for the treatment of spinal cord injuries, according to preliminary safety and neurologic recovery data. The disease the drug was originally designed to treat, ALS, destroys the nerves that control muscles. This gradually leads to paralysis and death. This treatment shuts off the mutated gene that causes the ALS, an approach that has never before been tested against a condition that damages the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
The scientists who studied the drug for ALS found there were not any serious side effects in patients who had the disease. Additionally, there was not a significant difference between the side effects in the control and treatment groups. The most common side effects associated with the spinal infusions the drug requires were headache and back pain. The results of this study have led some to believe that this approach could be used to fight other central nervous system disorders.
The drug, riluzole, may also help patients who have spinal cord injuries regain some of their motor function. Riluzole blocks sodium channels, reducing the influx of calcium ions and prevents the stimulation of glutamate receptors indirectly. This makes it very well suited for treatment of a spinal cord injury in an early phase.
A trial conducted by the North American Clinical Trial Network had 36 patients who had traumatic acute spinal cord injuries, most of which were caused by motor vehicle accidents and falls. The patients were treated within 12 hours of being injured. Riluzole was administered every 12 hours for 14 days. The results were measured against the outcomes of controls from a spinal cord registry. The results showed that the drug appeared to be safe to use in cases of traumatic acute spinal cord injuries and the neurological recovery progress appeared promising. It is possible that if the trials continue to show promise that such treatment may also be used in cases where the spinal injury was caused by medical malpractice.
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