How estrogen may lead to a cure to spinal cord injuries.

A group of Napans with serious spinal injuries recently heard about possible cures for what ails them from a leading scientist in the field.

Using the female hormones estrogen, a UC Davis professor is working toward a cure for spinal cord injuries in both sexes.

UC Davis’ Dr. Candace Floyd, a professor in the school’s department of Neurological Surgery, discussed her work with 30 members of the Napa Spinal Chord Injury Network (NSCIN) last week. Using the female hormones estrogen, Floyd is working toward a cure for spinal cord injuries in both sexes.

“I started looking at the data,” she said. “Eighty-two percent of spinal cord injury patients are male and most injuries occur between the ages of 16 and 30. Even women involved in the same accidents were coming out better,” she noted.

“Could there be a reason women are less affected by traumatic events? Why is it 80 percent men?” she said.

After describing some highly technical effects injuries have on spinal nerves, she speculated, “Maybe estrogen has an ability to heal nerves. My idea is that a female in a motor vehicle accident may have something in her body that makes her walk away from it.”

Estrogen’s benefits

Floyd began looking at how toxins spread through the spinal cord in the weeks after an injury had occurred.

“(It’s) a secondary injury that can have more impact than the original injury,” she told the audience, more than half of whom were in wheelchairs. Estrogen has been known to save those cells after injury, she said.

Floyd added that researchers are looking for a drug that will protect spinal cord tissue. “We are trying to look at one type of pharmaceutical that will go after the injury from several different angles,” she said. “Estrogen may be that drug. Estrogen is already approved, so you wouldn’t be starting from scratch.”

Floyd said most estrogen research ground to a halt a few years ago when testing of the effects of estrogen on chronic heart disease brought up safety concerns. “They used Premarin in their research. Out of ten estrogens in Premarin, three of them are natural in humans. Several of them are toxic,” she said.

To see if she was right, Floyd and her colleagues crushed the spinal cords of several rats. Some were given estrogen before the injury, while others were given the hormones afterward. Some rats received no estrogen.

The animals that were given estrogen before the injury had substantially more living spinal cord cells, as did the ones that received estrogen right after the injury, though their injuries were more severe.

She cautioned that these experiments are very preliminary and raise as many questions as answers.

“We want to know how long you can wait after the injury,” Floyd told the audience. “We have strong evidence that it helps before injury, but what about after the injury? You can put a (estrogen) patch on somebody in the ambulance. We haven’t done that study yet.”

There are other problems with estrogen as a treatment, according to Floyd.

“Fourteen days is the limit a man can take estrogen without feminizing effects,” she said. “We need to test how long and how much you need.”

Floyd said the research community is slow to accept any kind of estrogen research.

“In the beginning, surgeons are really reluctant because of … how negative the press has been for estrogen research,” she said. “But when they see the data, they get the idea of what we’re trying to do. It kind of sways them.”

There is one thing that researchers and pharmaceutical companies like about estrogen.

“Estrogen has already passed all the safety trials,” Floyd said. “That’s money in the bank. This is commercially available, if you have a prescription.”


Posted on February 3rd, 2005 in Research for a Cure.