Drug shows promise for treating spinal cord injuries

Researchers from the University of Toronto recently announced promising results from the initial stages of a clinical trial designed to determine whether the drug riluzole could be helpful in treating those with spinal cord injuries. They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Early trials on mice

Riluzole is a drug currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Early indications are that this drug may also be useful in helping those who have suffered a spinal cord injury regain some neurological function.

In earlier tests on mice with spinal cord injuries, researchers discovered that riluzole has neuroprotective properties. That is, when administered after a spinal cord injury, it helps prevent further damage to the body's neurons. The drug can, however, be toxic to the liver, so further tests and trials have been necessary to make a safety determination.

New trial results

Researchers performed the most recent trial on 36 patients who had recently suffered severe spinal cord injuries. Each patient was treated within 12 hours of his or her injury. For 14 days, each patient received a dose of riluzole every 12 hours and doctors noted any chances to their status. Although a few patients suffered serious complications from the drug, there were not enough problems to cause concern. There are few questions that the drug is safe for the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

The trial included both patients with cervical injuries and patients with thoracic injuries. Researchers found that those with cervical injuries had better outcomes using riluzole than those with thoracic injuries. It is believed this difference may be partially due to the nature of most cervical injuries, which are usually not as catastrophic as thoracic injuries.

Further research is needed, but the results of this initial trial indicate that the drug may help some patients regain enough function to allow them to feed themselves or even get out of bed. These may seem like small points, but the difference can make a world of difference for someone who has suffered a serious spinal cord injury.

Although the riluzole trial was small, the authors of the study are hopeful that their work may provide a new avenue of treatment for those who have suffered a spinal cord injury. A larger drug trial, expected to involve about 300 patients, is expected to begin later this year.