If you have a bee allergy, you’re probably familiar with the EpiPen. It’s a device that injects epinephrine immediately into the bloodstream to constrict blood vessels and open airways to restore the ability to breathe clearly. What if the same concept could be applied to spine-related injuries? This is actually a goal researchers are working on right now. But just how would a “spinal EpiPen” work?
Before discussing how a “spinal EpiPen” would work, let’s take a closer look at what specifically happens to the body when a spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs. The process can be broken down as follows:
• Cells are sent to the affected part of the spine by the immune system
• The regeneration process begins
• A blood–brain barrier prevents excessive immune system activity from occurring in the affected area
• This barrier is broken by a spinal cord injury
• Excessive localized inflammation occurs as the affected area is flooded with immune cells
Neurons can also be damaged by excessive inflammation. Also, in response to the overactivity of the immune system, scar tissue forms. This scar tissue then impedes the nerve cell regeneration process, which can contribute to paralysis and/or a loss of physical sensation.
Researchers have already developed a device similar to the EpiPen intended to address issues related to spinal cord injuries. It’s shown promising results in tests performed on mice. The device works by producing nanoparticles that direct immune cells away from the injured part of the spine. The immune cells that do make it to the SCI site are altered so they play more of a beneficial role in the regeneration or cell regrowth process.
Nanoparticles are very small particles that can be highly effective and precise. Because they’re so small, it’s believed side effects—such as the increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and blood clots—associated with other injectable treatments may be avoided. Nanoparticles have already been effectively used to minimize symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) for some patients and to reduce reactions from the West Nile virus.
Ultimately, having fewer immune cells within the injury site means reduced inflammation and tissue damage. Researchers are hoping new therapeutic strategies may be developed if results seen with lab animals translate well to human subjects. This research may be used to treat individuals with spine injuries, including patients who are recovering from surgical procedures such as back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients may ultimately be able to recover more quickly and with greater comfort if treatment methods are able to incorporate this research into real-world applications. Possible uses of a “spinal EpiPen” on humans may include:
• Providing direct SCI injections immediately after an injury occurs
• Minimizing inflammation before it has a chance to become a problem
• Reducing the impact on functional capacity from the SCI
The development of a spinal injection device resembling the EpiPen is just one of several efforts being made to help people with spinal cord injuries recover as much as possible. There has also been encouraging research associated with stem cells and electrical stimulation. As for the “spinal EpiPen,” it continues to move through clinical trials. Perhaps one day it will be as commonplace and effective as the EpiPen presently is for people with allergies.
If you’ve had any kind of injury to your back or neck, don’t wait—see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon right away to get properly diagnosed and begin treatment. For the finest in spinal care, turn to the industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute. We have years of experience in using the most innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and treat every source of back and neck pain. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule your consultation.