Spinal Cord Injury Triggers Systemic Spinal Cord Diseases
The Ohio State University College of Medicine has recruited the world’s top researchers focused on spinal cord injury (SCI). Together, we are making substantial strides in some of the most critical areas impacting patients with SCI – inflammation, infection, digestive health and liver/metabolic disease – with more than 30 years of continuous NIH funding. Our researchers’ findings are instrumental in creating a new clinical care model that will improve lives of SCI patients worldwide.
“Spinal cord injuries often lead to secondary health conditions, including high blood pressure, incontinence, gut health issues, dysregulated metabolism leading to obesity and diabetes and an increased risk for developing life-threatening infections or sepsis.” Click to tweet this story
SCI is more than a matter of immobility. “The spinal cord injury creates a systemic disease that is secondary to the dysfunction of organs throughout the body,” explains Phillip Popovich, PhD, chair of Neuroscience at Ohio State and director of Ohio State’s Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair.
“When the spinal cord’s neural output centers are damaged, the brain can no longer communicate with other organs in the body,” he says. “The brain can’t send its normal messages out through the spinal cord, and those messages that do get out are fragmented and scrambled.”
“We do need to fix the injured part of the spinal cord,” explains Dana McTigue, PhD, professor and vice chair of Research in Neuroscience and the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair. “But we’re one of the only places committed to looking at the body as a whole.”
The team’s out-of-the-box thinking and research focus have revolutionized the way liver pathology and systemic changes are viewed after injury to the spinal cord. Access to willing expert research collaborators at Ohio State helped Dr. McTigue connect the dots to a major scientific discovery.
“I found a liver expert in Human Nutrition at Ohio State,” she says. “Together, we were the first to prove liver damage as an unexpected but direct systemic effect caused by spinal cord injury.”
While many SCI researchers focus on restoring a patient’s ability to walk again, Ohio State neuroscience teams are focused on equally important areas such as reducing mortality and disability rates and improving chronic health and quality of life
How the brain and spinal cord communicate with the immune system is important for virtually every human disease, including spinal cord injuries. Previous research by Ohio State has shown that spinal cord injuries can cause a “paralysis” of the immune system.
“Your immune system requires an intact and functional spinal cord,” explains Dr. Popovich. “When your spinal cord is injured, it takes the immune system offline.”
Spinal cord injuries often lead to secondary health conditions, including high blood pressure, incontinence, gut health issues, dysregulated metabolism leading to obesity and diabetes and an increased risk for developing life-threatening infections or sepsis.
“Patients with injured spinal cords are 37 times more likely to die of an infection than someone without an SCI. Largely because of these conditions, the high mortality rate for people with chronic spinal cord injuries hasn’t changed in more than 30 years. Until now,” says Jan Schwab, MD, PhD, professor of Neurology, physician-scientist and director of the SCI Division.
With a powerhouse research team, visionary leadership and a unique neuroscientific approach, Ohio State’s Neurological Institute is already developing measurable, replicable and unprecedented therapies to combat systemic and often life-threatening conditions in patients with SCI.