PURPOSE: To inform my audience about people in the United States living with spinal cord injuries
There are about a quarter of a million people in the United States living with spinal cord injuries. In addition, between 7,600 and 10,000 new injuries occur each year. Nearly half of these new injuries will occur in young people between the ages of 16 and 30. I have become very interested in the research to find a cure for spinal cord injuries and hope to share some of the information I found with you today. In order for you to fully understand the details I will be sharing with you, I’d like to begin with a general overview of the spinal cord before moving on to the three stages of research I will cover: past research which has lead to present treatments, recent research, and the present and future research.
The spinal cord is basically a bundle of nerves which runs from the base of the brain to the middle of the waist. It is the core of the spinal column and carries nerve impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. When this soft, jelly-like cord is injured, severe effects are felt on the body. The spinal cord can be bruised, damaged, or severed, each resulting in different degrees of injury. In this illustration we see an example of a slipped disk. A slipped disk most often results in severe and sometimes disabling pain and can be treated by painkillers, bed rest, or surgery. While definitely not a minor ailment, the severity of a slipped disk is not very high since the spinal cord is left intact and therefor there is no nerve damage. However, more serious consequences occur when the spinal cord is damaged or severed. This can happen from traumas or diseases, and since we have a limited time, I will focus only on the traumatic causes. The largest contributor to traumatic spinal cord injuries is vehicular accidents, accounting for nearly 48%. Next is falls at almost 21%, followed by violence, sports, and ‘other’. As you can see from this graph, 66% of sports injuries occur in the form of diving accidents, while I am part of the 3.8% of snow skiing accidents.
Now that I have shared a brief overview of the spinal cord and some statistics about spinal cord injuries, we will look at the past research that has led to the treatments most commonly used today. In 1990, a steroid called dexamethasone was discovered in human trials to preserve some motor and sensory function if administered at high doses within 8 hours of injury. Surgery used to remove fluid, tissue, or bone fragments, or to stabilize fractured vertebrae by fusing bones or inserting hardware has also proven to be one of the most thorough measures to prevent further harm. I received both of these treatments after my accident, and they are the same that have been used for the past decade. Until recently, doctors had no way of limiting...