About Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the spinal column in the middle of the back. Spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when there is damage to the disks of bone in the spinal column that blocks communication between the brain and the rest of the body. In the U.S. alone, more than 17,000 people suffer an SCI each year. After a spinal cord injury, a person’s sensory, motor and reflex messages may be diminished or completely disabled below the site of damage. In general, the higher in the spinal cord the injury occurs, the more dysfunction the person will experience. Spinal cord injuries are defined as complete or incomplete depending on how much movement and sensation remains.

There are different levels of injury and degrees of seriousness for SCI. Some injuries heal completely, while others result in complete paralysis. Respiratory complications often are an indication of the severity of spinal cord injury. Approximately one-third of people with injury to the neck area will require breathing or other respiratory support.

Current SCI treatment options include medications given immediately after injury to reduce damage to nerve cells, electrical stimulation, traction to stabilize the spine and surgery. Long-term treatment options include prosthetics, rehabilitation therapy and additional surgery. But despite improvements in emergency care, treatment and rehabilitation, an FDA-approved therapy that restores neurological function in the spinal cord does not exist for the approximately 276,000 Americans living with spinal cord injury. The SCiStar study is an important part of the search for such a therapy.