Monday, April 18, 2005

New Business Holds Promise for Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

A new business venture was announced Thursday which could revolutionize treatment for people with paralyzing spinal cord injuries. The news is another indication that Indiana is taking the lead in biotechnology.

Brandon Ingram was thrown from a car in 2002, and lost the use of his legs. Thanks to an electrical device which emits a charge similar to one in an embryo, Ingram is regaining sensation and movement. He says he now has some feeling and can use braces to walk.

Dr. Richard Borgens, a professor of biomedical engineering, is the inventor of the device tested by Ingram and nine others. It's called an OFS, or oscillating field stimulator.

Dr. Borgens discovered that a weak electrical current can regenerate nerve tissue. ?It puts an electrical field over the injury. That electrical field, through 20 years of animal testing, has been shown to produce regeneration of nerve fibers to go slightly in and around the injury and make new connections,? he said.

Dr. Borgens refined the device in his lab and tried it on animals like daschunds which had lost the use of their legs. But it was when Dr. Scott Shapiro, a neurosurgeon at IU, implanted ten of the devices in humans, the device began to get serious attention.

Not only was it safe, said Shapiro, but ?it was most effective in recovery of sensory function, light touch and pin prick below the level of injury. Motor function was there. It wasn't as robust as the sensory recovery,? he said.

There's another part to this story, and it has to do with a former Purdue football star who's turned into a businessman.

Mark Carney has reached an agreement with Purdue and Dr. Borgens to market the OFS. ?We absolutely are an Indiana company and while we're still working out exactly where we're going to be located, there will be jobs,? said Carney, Andara Life Science.

The initial study was supported by a special appropriation by the Indiana General Assembly and charitable gifts.

As a health-care executive, Carney said he recognizes the significance of the treatment from both a quality-of-life standpoint and health-care industry cost perspective.

"Its importance is twofold," Carney said. "Because most of these patients suffer these catastrophic injuries while in their 20s and require care for the rest of their lives, treatment costs can approach $650,000 in the first year and $120,000 every year thereafter. When you factor in lost wages, fringes and productivity, the overall expense can easily approach $3 million."

The OFS could be available to the public by 2008.

None of the patients involved in the study were able to walk, but their quality of life improved by using the oscillating field stimulator. "In our study, the OFS was surgically removed at 15 weeks, and patients were followed for one year and tested to evaluate their sensory recovery. Some patients who had no sensation below the level of their injury prior to the implantation of the OFS found their sensation in certain areas almost back to normal following the clinical study regiment. In addition, some patients did regain sensation and motor function in their lower extremities but not enough to stand unassisted,? said Shapiro.

Andara executives are now in the process of hiring additional members of the management team and implementing the business plan that has been developed. Several locations in Indiana are under consideration by Andara for office and laboratory space.

By: Debby Knox