New Spinal Injury Therapy Studied
Malcolm Ritter,
AP Science Writer

6:30 PM EST; October 17, 1999; New York, NY (AP) -- Rats subjected to spinal cord injury partially recovered when they were treated quickly with a substance pumped out by immune-system cells. This could be a possible basis for a new therapeutic intervention researchers in Miami report. While the rats were still impaired, the substance worked better than a drug normally given immediately after spinal cord injuries to promote recovery, said Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich. The substance, Interleukin-10, might someday replace methylprednisolone, the standard drug administered in trauma cases today. Or it could be used in combination with it, he and colleagues suggest in the October 1999 issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma. Dr. Dietrich is Scientific Director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and Professor of Neurological Surgery and Neurology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers University, who didn't participate in the study, said he believed "Interleukin-10 could turn out to be a better therapy than the standard drug." "It would be the first major advance in treating people who've just suffered spinal cord injury since methylprednisolone was shown to be effective in 1990," he said. "Interleukin-10 has been given to many people for bowel disorders and arthritis with no serious side effects, even at higher doses than the rats got," Dietrich said. "Scientists might start testing its effect when given soon after human spinal cord injuries within the next year," he said.

"It's not clear why Interleukin-10 helped the rats. It does dampen inflammation, in which blood cells congregate and pump out potentially harmful substances, and inflammation is thought to damage the spinal cord after injury," Dietrich said. "In any case, Interleukin-10 appears to help nerves survive a crushing injury, and the study found evidence that it also helps injured fibers regenerate," he said.

In the experiment, nine rats were injected in the leg with Interleukin-10 a half-hour after their spinal cords were partially crushed. Nine others were given an inert injection. The treated rats showed better recovery starting two weeks later and extending to the end of the experiment, eight weeks after the injury. The rats that got the inert injection were able to step with their hind legs, but only in an uncoordinated way. In the treated rats, the hind legs supported body weight better and showed much better coordination. Scientists are now working with rats to see whether Interleukin-10 is still effective even if given later than a half-hour after injury.