"There is no drug for it and people are paralyzed for the rest of their life," says Inderjit Singh, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
After a spinal cord injury, inflammation cuts off blood flow to the spine, making the injury that much worse. When researchers gave newly paralyzed rats statins, they not only improved, they actually started walking again.
"By using statins to shut off some of those active processes that happen in inflammation, you protect the cells from dying," says Bernard Maria, M.D., a pediatric neurologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Another group of researchers are on the verge of a breakthrough that will make healing cuts, diabetic wounds and even war injuries a whole lot easier.
"The idea of this technology is to modulate the scarring response so that we shift the balance from scarring towards regeneration," says Gautam Ghatnekar, Ph.D., D.V.M., a biologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Dr. Ghatnekar created a substance based on a naturally-occurring protein in the body. In a recent animal study, it reduced scarring by 50 percent and healed wounds twice as fast.
"It was great. It was so dramatic. I mean, it was almost unbelievable," Dr. Ghatnekar says.
A gel will be applied directly to wounds. It can also be injected internally, which would mean less scarring and faster healing for brain, heart and even spinal cord injuries.
"The next step is to proceed to clinical trials in humans," Dr. Ghatnekar says.
And they're well on their way. Human trials on the use of statins to treat spinal cord injuries are expected to start early next year. Since statins are already FDA approved for lowering cholesterol and the safety of them is well known, doctors are forging quickly ahead. Clinical trials on the wound-healing gel begin this month.
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