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Spinal cord injury expert shares research

by Cindy Abole

Public Relations
The MUSC research community learned the latest developments about a promising hypothermia trial to treat acute spinal cord injuries during the July 8 visit of a leading researcher with The Miami Project.
Dr. Allan Levi, left, is met by Dr. Tom Higerd and the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund's Board of Directors as part of Levi's July 8 visit to MUSC.

Allan D. Levi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery and chief of the neurospine service at Jackson Memorial Hospital, spoke at a recent Department of Neurosciences Grand Rounds and met with the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund’s (SCIRF) board. He came to highlight the results of a hypothermia trial that he and colleagues at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Medical Center conducted.
The trial involves systemic intravascular cooling by introducing a cold saline solution to decrease damage to the spinal cord in severe cases of cervical spinal cord injury patients. The treatment also may be neuroprotective in that it decreases the severity of injury and increases function in patients. Other clinical reports have demonstrated the use of cooling on patients with head injury, stroke and cardiac arrest, but presented no established standards of care for those with spinal cord injuries. Levi and his research team’s findings were published in the April issue of Neurosurgery.
Levi’s visit was coordinated under the guidance of Brian G. Cuddy, M.D., a Lowcountry neurosurgeon and SCIRF board chair. In addition to his grand rounds talk, Levy focused on education and the national research mission of The Miami Project in advancing knowledge and treatments in spinal cord injury research.
Cuddy said that the visit served as a catalyst.
“Levi’s visit as a world-renown investigator in this specialty area is motivating and reminds each of us that there is no magic bullet or pill available to reverse its effects,” he said. “Instead, we need to focus on how small steps mark progress and can provide better outcomes for patients. We can’t afford to miss opportunities that involve MUSC research and collaboration such as with this type of specialty treatment and improved outcomes.”
Attending the S.C. Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund meeting are: Drs. Byron N. Bailey, back row from left, W. Daniel Westerkam, Brian G. Cuddy, Allan Levi, Naren Banik, Higerd and Mark  Sothmann. Front row: Catherine Leigh Graham and Dr. James S. Krause.

According to Levi, Cuddy and other researchers, the incidence of spinal cord injuries in the Palmetto State are on the rise and are higher than the national average. This is attributed to driving accidents and alcohol-related incidents, according to Cuddy.
It also is impacted by the state’s elderly population, which is more prone to falls, has more complications with arthritis and degeneration of the spine, engages in more active lifestyles that might lead to injury, and is reaching an age where the ability to recover well is being lost. Today, clinicians and researchers are focusing on better treatment for older patients, according to Levi.
Levi leads a team of researchers to develop clinical protocols with The Miami Project at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, which is conducting extensive research on applying this therapy to humans. Jackson Memorial Medical Center is the only institution currently conducting regimented hypothermia treatment and follow-up for patients with acute spinal cord injury.
“So far, the hypothermia provides a promising new treatment without a high complication profile compared with treatments with other neurological outcomes. There’s enough enthusiasm in our efforts to forge ahead to the next step and develop a multi-center study and involve and recruit other institutions,” Levi said.
Although MUSC is not participating in this trial, researchers may collaborate with Levi and his Miami Project colleagues in other areas of cell transplantation research, an understanding of human Schwann cells and drug development.  
The SCIRF was created July 20, 2000, by the South Carolina legislature to provide research leading to improved specialized care and rehabilitation services of South Carolinians with spinal cord injuries and disease. The program fosters collaboration in the areas of basic science research and clinical science to conduct translational research that will improve their overall quality of life.

Friday, July 23, 2010

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