The world of SCI research is evolving more rapidly now than ever before. The rats and cats and dogs and monkeys have served their time as guinea pigs, and now it’s time to bring the science out of the labs and into the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings, those of us living every moment with paralysis. And there are more of us than most people know.
Some organizations still use the old numbers — 10,000 new SCIs each year, a total of 250,000 in all. But an authoritative Reeve Foundation study released in 2009 puts the number at 1,275,000 people living with SCI, and two, three, or even four times as many new injuries per year as previously thought. So which of the promising scientific approaches will deliver a cure, if any?
A sudden breakthrough in stem cell or Schwann cell human trials could trigger a quantum leap in scientific knowledge and uncover a clear path to a cure. But the nature of the research model itself has a dampening effect. It takes decades to move from animal studies to human trials, and who knows how long — once a cure or significant restorative procedure is identified — before we see it trickle down to the average para or quad?
That’s why I would not wager on stem cells or Schwann cells — or any other cellular research — to improve the lives of more than a tiny fraction of the SCI population anytime soon. But I would wager on the dark horse in the research world, the one that promises less but delivers more. I’m talking of epidural stimul