According to Kwow, there are now two trials relating to the transplantation of stem cells into the human body. Early research has shown that they have an impact on damaged neurons, but research remains in its infancy. Promising results have also been found in rats.
Lack of funding
There are six clinical trials of drugs which have passed stage one research, but lack funding to go to the second stage. Some of them do not constitute a cure, but target certain symptoms of spinal cord injuries and help to restore certain functions.
“More basic research needs to be supported in order to make us understand exactly what happens in spinal cord injuries,” says Kwow. “The approach towards spinal cord injury has to be two-fold. There is no immediate quick fix. We have to look at the basic science. What happens physiologically?”
Kwow says the failure of the medical profession to find a cure that will help spinal cord victims to walk again is down to the complexity of the problems involved. After a catastrophic injury to the spinal cord, the body tries to shut down the affected area.
“The body does not favour regeneration of the neurons. We can stabilise patients now. We need to come back to evolution and make the environment non-inhibitory to neuron growth.
WWe need to fight against evolution to make it more penetrable. The connections to the peripheral nervous system are also important. It is a very complicated situation. If you just have medical expertise in one area, it is not going to be enough.”
Kwok believes there is a lot of money for neurological research but most of it was going on other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. As a result, spinal cord injuries often lose out.
Red Bull’s Wings for Life Foundation funds 82 different projects into spinal cord injury. Kwok says it is impossible to promise a breakthrough to those victims of spinal cord injury, but there is hope that those young people who are currently confined to wheelchairs will one day walk again.
“We are proceeding by small steps. There are lots of small projects that are giving us insights into where we should go for the next projects. I couldn’t say if they will be able to walk in 10 years, but everything we are doing is important.”