The work of a University of Iowa researcher aims to keep paralysis victims healthy until a cure offers to reverse their condition. Doctor Richard Shields says a spinal-cord injury that cuts off control is just the first problem for the patient hoping that research will turn up a cure. He explains that an 18-year-old, for example, who’s paralyzed from some injury today will start suffering bone deterioration from the inactivity, which can lead to osteoporosis so severe, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a cure that comes along in as little as five years.
Shields is focusing on trying to maintain the health of the bones and muscles today, so when a cure comes along, people with spinal-cord injury can take advantage of it. He says a key factor is that once a bone loses its calcium, that is not reversible. Shields says only exercise can keep both muscles and bones in proper condition, so his team came up with a way to “work out” the muscles of a person whose spinal injury had cut off their own control over their body. He developed a computer-controlled “stimulator” to send a jolt that contracted leg muscles.
Shields says one key was working with newly-injured patients before their body deteriorated so they weren’t trying to replace calcium already lost from the bone. They used computer-controlled doses of stress five days a week, for three years…on ONE leg, using the patient’s other leg as a comparison.
Shields published his work in two scientific journals, in March and this month. What they found was 32-percent more bone density in the limb that got the training, and 30-percent more muscle saved. Those muscles also could do more work without fatigue. Shields says in cases where stem-cell or other research might offer a cure a few years down the road, his treatment can keep a patient in good enough condition to take advantage of it.