Spinal cord injury – scientific challenges for the unknown future
The history of spinal cord injuries starts with the ancient Egyptian medical papyrus known as the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. The papyrus written about 2500 B.C.by the physician and architect of the Sakkara pyramids Imhotep, describes “crushed vertebra in his neck” as well as symptoms of neurological deterioration. An ailment not to be treated was the massage to the patients at that time. This fatalistic attitude remained until the end of World War II when the first rehabilitation centre focused on the rehabilitation of spinal cord injured patients was opened. Our knowledge of the pathophysiological processes, both the primary as well as the secondary, has increased tremendously. However, all this knowledge has only led to improved medical care but not to any therapeutic method to restore, even partially, the neurological function.Neuroprotection is defined as measures to counteract secondary injury mechanisms and/or limit the extent of damage caused by self-destructive cellular and tissue processes. The co-existence of several distinctly different injury mechanisms after trauma has provided opportunities to explore a large number of potentially neuroprotective agents in animal experiments such as methylprednisolone sodium succinate. The results of this research have been very discouraging and pharmacological neuroprotection for patients with spinal cord injury has fallen short of the expectations created by the extensive research and promising observations in animal experiments. The focus of research has now, instead, been transformed to the field of neural regeneration. This field includes the discovery of regenerating obstacles in the nerve cell and/or environmental factors but also various regeneration strategies such as bridging the gap at the site of injury as well as transplantation of foetal tissue and stem cells. The purpose of this review is to highlight selected experimental and clinical studies that form the basis for undertaking future challenges in the research field of spinal cord injury. We will focus our discussion on methods either preventing the consequences of secondary injury in the acute period (neuroprotection) and/or various techniques of neural regeneration in the sub-acute and chronic phase and finally expose some thoughts about future avenues within this scientific field.
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