There are currently no effective therapies for spinal cord injuries. But a protein injection may help some patients walk again.
Two years ago, Michelle Robinson was on her way home from work when she was hit by a car.
“All I remember is hearing a loud screeching noise and I remember going, flying up in the air,” Michelle said.
The accident left the 42-year-old mother paralyzed. Now she hopes an experimental drug will put her back on her feet.
“It appears that this actually does improve their prognosis,” said James Harrop, a neurosurgeon.
Harrop is testing the novel drug called Cethrin to treat spinal cord injuries.
“It’s a paste or a jelly that you sort of just spread onto the spinal cord with a little applicator, like a syringe,” he said.
Doctors apply the protein during standard decompression surgery to stabilize the spine. The idea is to stop nerve cell death that includes days to weeks after the injury occurs.
“Inside the cell, there’s a nucleus which is controlling sort of this, the auto-regulator of the cell and what it’s doing is it’s telling the cell we don’t want you to function anymore,” Harrop said.
Cethrin is designed to interfere with that message by seeping through the spinal cord membrane to cells at the injury site.
“It goes into the cell and it says ‘wait a minute’. I don’t want you guys going down that path anyways, I want you to stop and I want you to start repairing the cell,” Harrop said.
Early trials show the protein therapy is safe. And the results are promising. Michelle says she is both excited and hopeful the new therapy will work for her.
“I say those words because Dr. Harrop told me that he was very hopeful that, you know, maybe one day I would be able to walk again, so I’m very hopeful also.”
Doctors caution that Cethrin, also called BA210, is not a magic bullet. But in the study, 31 percent of patients regained some function after being injected with the drug. The study is still enrolling patients. About 253,000 Americans are living with a spinal cord injury. Roughly 11,000 new cases occur every year.