9 key updates in spinal cord injury treatment in 2021


Each year, 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide suffer a spinal cord injury, which can stem from trauma, disease or degeneration, according to the World Health Organization.

Spinal cord injury is associated with a risk of developing secondary conditions that can be debilitating, and in some cases, life-threatening, such as deep vein thrombosis, urinary tract infections, osteoporosis, chronic pain and respiratory complications. Acute care, rehabilitation and ongoing health maintenance are essential for the prevention and management of these conditions.

Here are nine key updates in spinal cord injury treatment this year:

1. Patients injected with stem cells derived from their own bone marrow saw improvement in motor functions after spinal cord injuries, according to a study published February in the Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery. Thirteen patients with nonpenetrating spinal cord injuries received an intravenous injection of their stem cells. More than half of them had significant improvements in key motor functions, and no major side effects were reported.

2. The National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Louisville (Ky.) and Medtronic a $7.8 million grant to study epidural stimulation for the treatment of spinal cord injury in March. Medtronic and scientists from the university are developing software applications for spinal cord injury that integrate with its Intellis spinal cord stimulator system. The five-year project, conducted at the university's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, focuses on developing technology to improve control of locomotor and bladder function.

3. Vanta, Medtronic's recharge-free implantable neurostimulator, received the green light from the FDA in June. Vanta has a battery life of up to 11 years, includes Medtronic's SureScan technology, which provides full-body MRI access, and its AdaptiveStim allows for automatic adjusting stimulation to maintain each patient's optimal dose, according to the company. It also features Snapshot, a data insights system that records patient activity levels to facilitate objective health conversations with clinicians.

4. The Upgrade study, which enrolled its first of up to 1,700 patients in February, is examining long-term, real-world outcomes to understand the effect of Medtronic's Differential Target Multiplexed programming for spinal cord stimulation patients. Administered via Medtronic's Intellis platform, therapy is a programming option used to treat patients with chronic pain. The multiplexed programming was developed by Stimgenics, which was acquired by Medtronic in 2020.

5. The FDA cleared Nevro's Senza spinal cord stimulator system for the treatment of chronic pain associated with painful diabetic neuropathy in July. Senza is the only FDA-approved spinal cord stimulator with a specific indication to treat painful diabetic neuropathy, according to Nevro.

6. New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System's department of rehabilitation and human performance received a $2.3 million grant to support its spinal cord injury program in September. The health system will use the grant to help its Icahn School of Medicine expand research into patient care and collaborate with other centers on the effects of spinal cord injuries on patients' livelihood and how interventions can affect neurological and functional recovery.

7. Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, Central Virginia VA Health Care System and Sheltering Arms Institute, all in Richmond, formed the State Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury Care. The collaboration helped the commonwealth earn federal designation as one of 14 spinal cord injury model systems centers in the U.S. Research at the facility focuses on the use of noninvasive electrical stimulation and identifying health inequities after spinal cord injuries.

8. Scott Falci, MD, launched the Falci Institute for Spinal Cord Injuries at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colo., in October. The center provides specialized neurological care for spinal cord injury patients, including spinal deformities, post-traumatic spinal cord tethering and post-traumatic syringomyelia.

9. The Pennsylvania Department of Health awarded $1 million to six spinal cord injury researchers in September. The grants, part of the department's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement program, provide financial support to further research for the functional improvement of those with spinal cord injuries.

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