A joint study conducted by researchers at University of Zurich, the Uniklinik Balgrist and University College London (UCL) reveals that the degenerative changes in the functional state and structure of spinal cord and brain occurs within 40 days of acute spinal cord injury.
Spinal cord depletes rapidly
The scientists studied 13 patients with acute spinal cord injuries every three months for a year using novel MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) protocols. They discovered that the diameter of the spinal cord had rapidly decreased and was already seven percent smaller after twelve months. A lesser volume decline was also evident in the corticospinal tract, a tract indispensable for motor control, and nerve cells in the sensorimotor cortex. The extent of the degenerative changes coincided with the clinical outcome. "Patients with a greater tissue loss above the injury site recovered less effectively than those with less changes," explains Patrick Freund, the investigator responsible for the study at the Paraplegic Center Balgrist.
Gaining insights into effect of therapies
Treatments targeting the injured spinal cord have entered clinical trials. Gaining insights into mechanisms of repair and recovery within the first year are crucial. Thanks to the use of the new neuroimaging protocols, Freund says, we now have the possibility of displaying the effect of therapeutic treatments on the central nervous system and of rehabilitative measures more quickly. Consequently, the effect of new therapies can also be recorded more rapidly.
"This study is an excellent example of the value of combining the complementary expertise of the two universities," says UCL's Dean of Brain Sciences, Professor Alan Thompson, who is one of the senior authors of the study. "It provides exciting new insights into the complications of spinal cord trauma and gives us the possibility of identifying both imaging biomarkers and therapeutic targets."