2018 Spinal Cord Injury Research

We’ve been closely monitoring spinal cord injury research and the future is brighter than ever for real treatments for paralysis. While stem cell research is the first thing that comes to mind when many think of SCI research, it is no longer the ruler of the roost. Many other treatments and studies are providing just as much hope, and we’ve outlined our favorites below. From a new antibody treatment that limits neural damage to gene therapy that can break down scar tissue, read on for the most exciting SCI research in 2018.

1. Epidural Stimulation: A New Trial Begins in 2018

Activity-based therapy has been the real hope of the spinal cord injury world for the last few years, and for good reason. This research is showing real results in humans. It works by electrically stimulating the spinal cord via an implanted simulator, and overtime many people with paralysis report real return from the stimulation. Bladder, bowel and sexual return are the most common functions people are seeing. Some leg movement, and the ability to stand is also being reported.

The University of Louisville Kentucky, where this research was originally discovered, is launching a new human trial for 2018. This new study is seeking to recruit 36 participants. Learn more here. In addition, two other epidural stimulation human trials that are currently ongoing, the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, are ending this year with further positive results expected.

2. Asterias Stem Cell Injection: Ongoing Human Trial

Asterias Biotherapeutics has been undertaking the first in-human SCI stem cell research trial since 2012, and they’re reporting 67% of their subjects in their most recent trial have recovered two or more motor levels. This study injects each participant with 20 million embryonic stem cells that are manufactured by Asterias Biotherapeutics. Read more

3. ReNet X: Human Trials Expected in 2018

Not too long ago Stephen Strittmatter, a Yale professor, discovered and developed a molecule that can block three different inhibitors, stabilize the nervous system and promote nerve regeneration. He also created an injection with the molecule and tested it on injured animals. Within three months, a third of regained full mobility. So motivated by the results, Dr. Strittmatter formed a bio company called ReNetX Bio.

So far they’ve been able to secure millions of dollars in funding for a human trial, including $15 million from the US government and $7 million from Wings for Life. RenetX Bio hopes to start their human trial in the fall of 2018. Learn more

4. Chrondotinase Research: No Human Trials Scheduled

For over 20 years Dr. Jerry Silver of the Silver Lab at Case Western University has been researching the role of glial cells and the regeneration of nerves. He’s also done extensive research on those with chronic injuries combining Chondroitinase with peptide (a protein) to dissolve/neutralize the axons that creates the scar over the injury area.

He created an injectable medicine (which they have only tested in rats and dogs) that targets the spinal cord and delivers a Chondroitinase/peptide combo. While none of his animal studies have helped injured animals get up and run again, it has proven to successfully grow axons around the injury site and make some neural connections. This year exciting news regarding their most recent research project is expected to be announced. Read more

5. Antibody Research: Human Trials Expected in 2018

Research teams at Kyoto University and Osaka University have developed an unprecedented antibody treatment that restored almost 80% of finger function in monkeys who were paralyzed. They were able to help their hands move again by using an antibody to prevent a natural protein that blocks neural regeneration. A human clinical trial is likely to be launched sometime this year in Japan. Read more

6. Neural Graft with Stem Cells: No Human Trials Scheduled

Researchers at the University of California recently made an exciting discovery when they implanted stem cell-filled grafts into the injured area of a spinal cord into a paralyzed rat – the stem cells knew where to go and they even began to grow new neural connections. While this research is only being done in rats right now, researchers believe this discovery proves that reconnecting damage circuitry in a spinal cord after an injury is possible. Read more

7. Gene Therapy: No Human Trials Scheduled, But Promising

A new area of SCI research is gene therapy. In Australia, a research project by PhD student Jarred Griffin is being funded by the Catwalk Organization. He discovered a way to use gene therapy to deliver a protein to break down scar tissue around a spinal cord. This protein delivery system also helps regrow and reconnect nerve cells, and it can lessen the injury overall. This research is still petri-dish based however. Jarred has expressed hope that his research could one day help chronic injuries. Read more

8. Lamprey Gene Research: Early Stages

Lampreys are some of the most fascinating marine life when it comes to spinal cord injuries. Within 10 weeks, a lamprey can completely recover from a completely severed spinal cord. Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory recently concluded a study that discovered humans and lampreys share some of the same genes that take part in this repair. They found an overlap of transcription factors, which are genes that signal neural regeneration. No research yet has been discussed in humans regarding this treatment. Read more

We’re seeing some exciting additions to the possible cure for paralysis in recent years. It really is remarkable. From 2018 and beyond, we can’t see what happens next. Check in with us as well as the year progresses for updates on the above research as it it released.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: How It May Affect People with SCI

No matter how you look at it, the recently signed into law Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has many people with disabilities concerned. It is not yet emergency level status, but there are aspects of the bill that could affect people with spinal cord injuries, especially if you rely on state funded services.

The affect on people with disabilities is better than many originally thought however, due to key provisions Republican controlled Congress decided to keep. The Medical Expense Deduction is one of these; the threshold has been lowered from 10% to 7.5%. The Disabled access credit also remains, which helps small businesses comply with the ADA. In addition, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit was kept, which gives a Federal tax credit to businesses that hire people with disabilities.

There are however several reasons to be wary of what’s to come in 2018, such as how this Act will be paid for. Experts are weighing in from across the board. We’ve identified these causes for concern below.

1. Cuts to Medicaid, SSI & Medicare May Be Needed to Pay for the Act

One of the most significant changes to the tax structure is the change in the corporate tax rate, dropping from 35% to 21%. This will result in a deficit of $1.4 trillion in the next decade. Proponents of the bill insist that these cuts will stimulate the economy by increased corporate hiring and revenue generation, resulting in additional tax revenues.

This supposition is based on historical trends but there is no concrete evidence that this will occur. On January 19th, 2018, the LA Times reported that the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, announced that they are ending their research on Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s syndrome, resulting in the loss of about 300 jobs. Will other companies follow suit?

This deficit is so big that many people with SCI are worried cuts to important state funded services like Medicaid, Medicare and SSI could occur.

The official Republican party denies this may be a possibility, but several Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, said they would consider cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs. We hope the GOP’s denial of such claims is true.

2. Automatic Spending Cuts to Medicare, Other Programs Could Occur

Many are also worried that automatic spending cuts could be triggered to pay for the act. The Congressional Budget Office has forewarned the public that this may be a possibility. These automatic reductions could mean up to $25 billion in cuts from Medicare in 2018. Also at risk are cuts to State programs like vocational rehab and social services, which both operate on grants.

3. Congress Didn’t Renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program

One of the most obvious blows to the disability community is the expiration of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Congress did not renew. This program helped parents who made too much to qualify for Medicaid and had no insurance from their employer. Most policy experts believe however it will be renewed, but funds could run out before this occurs. Additionally, GOP congressmen are adding additional “components” to the renewal, ie, other programs they want funded in exchange for agreeing to renew CHIP.

4. Repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Individual Mandate Could Escalate Insurance Costs

Finally, is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. With this gone, the new tax plan could force the individual insurance market rates to soar. With so many people with SCI living in poverty, this could leave many uninsured. The Center for American progress has estimated the typical middle-class family will see a premium increase of $2,000 per year. Therefore, SCI research could stall.

5. “Orphan Disease” Drug Tax Credit Lowered

Many people don’t realize that spinal cord injury is classified as an “Orphan Disease” by international standards. This means that it’s rare enough that drug companies don’t have a high enough incentive financially to develop new medications and/or treatments for spinal cord injury.

To prevent this from happening, the United States has provided a longstanding tax credit for pharmaceutical companies who do decide to research treatments for spinal cord injury. Unfortunately however in the new tax cut, this tax credit was lowered to 25% of what it was previously. Spinal cord injury research could be lessened in the US because of this change.

All people with SCI need to keep a close eye on their much-needed state services in 2018. As always, we will keep our eyes on what’s happening and make sure to report the latest.

6. Medical Expense Deduction Lowered

People with disabilities, or people with any medical conditions rather, have been able to take a 10% deduction from their total income for their medical expenses if they reached that percentage of their income or more, but that has changed. The Senate voted to lower this threshold from 10% to 7.5%. For some people with disabilities, this may be a significant blow.

There were other tax deductions for people with disabilities that were on the chopping block in the House version of this bill, but in the final Senate version the only change was to medical expenses deductions. And there are several important tax deductions to know about if you have a disability, all of which you can still take. Learn more about these longstanding deductions here.

Does the new tax act worry you as a person with a SCI?