New therapy for spinal cord injury

FRESNO, Calif.

27-year-old Drew Durrence is all about overcoming challenges. Eight years ago, he injured his spinal cord in a dirt bike accident.

"I actually crawled off the track, shook my head, and when I tried to get up, I lost feeling and movement from about chest down," Drew Durrence told Action News.

Therapy, and Drew's determination, has brought some of that back. Now, he's part of a unique trial. Physical therapist and biomedical engineer doctor Randy Trumbower is studying how oxygen deprivation can trigger molecular changes that excite or wake up the nervous system.

"What we're hoping is that by intermittently stimulating the spinal cord with this type of breathing intervention, that we're actually turning up the volume on spared connections within the spinal cord," Randy Trumbower, Ph.D., an assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, explained.

Patients alternately breathe air with low, nine percent oxygen and normal, 21 percent oxygen.

"We found that individuals that experienced intermittent hypoxia for one day, for 45 minutes of exposure actually increased, on average, 80 percent changes in strength,"Dr. Trumbower said.

In early trials, this oxygen deprivation therapy also helped patients use muscles they couldn't use before.

"If you can get just a little bit more strength where it makes it easier for you to stand up, or easier for you to do something, that's just another step," Drew said.

Whatever it takes, Drew says he'll keep challenging himself to do more taking control of his injury, instead of letting it control him.

The study is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. Patients who had the therapy for seven consecutive days had improvements in strength that lasted for a month or more. This trial has been going on since last year and is still recruiting patients in the Atlanta area for further studies.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Lance M. Skelly
Director of Media Relations
Emory Hospitals and Wesley Woods Center Health Sciences Communications
(404) 686-8538
Lance.Skelly@emoryhealthcare.org

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