“We are trying to improve someone’s quality of life. If someone can breathe without a ventilator, then you’ve increased their independence, and that, to me, is a huge success.” –Michael Lane, PhD
Walking is not the top priority for many patients who have suffered from cervical spinal cord injuries, according to Michael Lane, PhD, an assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine.
Much more basic functions — like controlling bowel movements and breathing independently — take precedence.
During a visit to his home country this month, for both the Australian Neurotrauma Symposium and the annual meeting of the Australasian Neuroscience Society, Lane was interviewed on ABC News (the NPR equivalent in the Land Down Under) to discuss new developments in spinal cord injury research.
It is estimated that there are almost 300,000 people living with spinal cord injury in the United States. Most of those injuries occur at the neck, which result in the most devastating outcomes — including impaired breathing.
“Anyone with breathing deficits typically goes on a ventilator. When you treat the deficit, you’re not allowing those muscles to work, and so the muscles start to die,” Lane said on the radio program. “Inadvertently, we’re preventing the muscles from working effectively. And when they don’t work, that’s atrophy.”
In Lane’s lab at Drexel, his team is developing therapeutic approaches to improve a spinal cord injury patient’s “progressive, spontaneous functional recovery,” or “neuroplasticity.” This means essentially strengthening a patient’s muscles and training his cells to recover, leading to more permanent positive outcomes.