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
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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pressure Ulcer Knowledge Survey

University of Virginia School of Medicine seeks adults with SCI to participate in a 15 minute online survey on pressure ulcers. This survey is part of the needs assessment portion of a project funded by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Survey results will be used to inform the development of a case based e-learning program targeting pressure ulcer prevention and management for adults with SCI and their caregivers. Participants need not have experienced a pressure ulcer to complete this survey.
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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Blue Bracelets - A Step Toward a Cure?

For Chaz Southard, hope exists in the form of a blue plastic bracelet.

"People naturally ask why you're wearing the bracelet and what it's for," said the 25-year-old Topsfield resident who suffered a spinal cord injury two and half years ago. "It's a talking piece more than anything else."

The message stamped into the blue flexible band reads "Fight With Courage - Cure SCI," and, according to Southard, that just about says it all.

"People living with spinal cord injuries are a silent minority," said Southard. "There are hundreds of thousands of us in this country, but there's no exact count anywhere. That's how invisible we are. We need to make our voices heard. We need people to understand how important a cure is and how close we are to finding it."

For the asking price of $5 each, the blue bracelets - spin-offs of Lance Armstrong's "Live Strong" cancer fundraising bands - are primarily designed to raise funds for spinal cord research and a hoped-for cure, preferably sooner rather than later.

"Top doctors in this country have told me that the more money that's poured into spinal cord research, the faster I'll get out of a wheelchair," said Southard. "I want this cure."

Injury leads to action
Since his injury in August 2002, Southard has devoted himself to a vigorous regimen of physical exercise and therapy in an attempt to restore movement and sensation to his body. His progress, according to Southard and his family, has been remarkable, but his recovery is far from complete. The most debilitating effects of his injury, said Southard, are a lack of independence and the presence of chronic pain. However, he continues to be encouraged by the return of intermittent sensation and motor ability.

"Only recently could I feel water again," said Southard. "I can't express what that feels like. I don't have the words to describe it. It has to be really cold water, but, still, I can feel it."

Southard's range of motion and physical mobility may be limited, but his passion and dedication to the cause of finding a cure for spinal cord injury propels him into new activities and outlets every day. In addition to publishing editorials and columns in various local newspapers, including the Tri-Town Transcript, Southard maintains his own Web site dedicated to lobbying for his cause - a Web site that, according to his records, gets upwards of 60 'hits,' or log-ons, per day. Southard has evolved into nothing less than a grassroots activist, as evidenced by his involvement with the Cure Paralysis Now organization.

Next weekend, Southard, his family and his best friend Tod Ohensian of Boxford are traveling to Washington, DC for, as Southard says, "the first wheelchair rally in history."

The Cure Paralysis Now Spring into Action Rally - of which Southard is one of the volunteer organizers - will convene Tuesday, April 12, at 10 a.m. outside the U.S. Capitol building. Dana Reeve, wife of the actor Christopher Reeve who recently died of complications a decade after suffering a spinal cord injury, will be one of the event's main speakers. The primary goal of the event is to lobby for passage of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act (CRPA) that has been languishing in Congress for the past five years.

Since the act is currently unfunded, the rally is also calling for the allocation of $300 million over three years to establish clinical trial networks that provide crucial data about risks and benefits of therapies, eliminating those that prove to be ineffective or risky. According to the Web site CureParalysisNow.org, establishing a spinal cord clinical trial network in this country is essential to finding a way to cure spinal cord injuries. Why the CRPA has been stalled for so long can only be speculated, but, according to Chaz Southard's father Chuck, it may be because people associate the controversial embryonic stem cell therapies with the Act.

"There are so many wonderful discoveries and therapies regarding a cure for spinal cord injuries that have nothing to do with embryonic stem cell research," said Chuck Southard in a recent interview. "Yet, it's as if these other therapies and discoveries are condemned by association. They can't make it through the fog. When this country pays $14 billion a year to care for members of the spinal cord injured community, asking for $300 million to find a cure just makes sense. If we can send people to the moon, we can find a cure for paralysis."

Participants in the Washington, DC rally are also hoping to gain a commitment from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to place a high priority on SCI research.

"It's all about trying to find a way to get treatments from the scientist's lab to the patient's bedside," said Southard, who, along with his family, is scheduled to meet personally with Sen. John Kerry as well as Sen. Kennedy's staff members to discuss the issues.

Bracelet offers a common bond
Southard's family is not the only one in Topsfield working for spinal cord injury awareness and a cure. Billy Qirici, owner and operator of the Daybreak Café in the Topsfield Village Shopping Centre sports a bright blue SCI bracelet on his wrist.

"I haven't taken it off since the moment I put it on three months ago," said Qirici, whose younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury 16 years ago while doing gymnastics on the beach. "When someone you love suffers an injury like this, it ties you to all others who suffer the same. It brings you all into the same category."

Qirici is planning on selling the blue bracelets from the counter of the Daybreak Café as soon as his order arrives from the Internet supplier.

Southard's mother Julie agrees with Qirici's sentiment that a special connection exists between those who understand a certain type of injury or illness.

"My bracelet - it's really a bond," said Julie Southard. "[When I see others wearing one] I feel like I'm joined in a quiet battle with other people who understand."

To order a "Cure SCI" blue bracelet and to learn more about the issues surrounding spinal cord injury, visit www.sciwalker.com or www.chazsouthard.org. For additional information on the rally in Washington, DC on April 12, visit www.CureParalysisNow.org.

By: Barbara R. Bodengraven
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