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For Men, Spinal Injuries Don't Lead to Infertility

In the months following a spinal cord injury, sperm quality and quantity drop in men who become paralyzed. Doctors worry that these mens' chances of fathering a child get progressively worse with the passage of time. However, a new study reported in the June issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, finds that men who've become paralyzed aren't in danger of becoming infertile. Researchers from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida collected 638 semen samples from 125 men who had suffered a spinal cord injury 1 to 18 years earlier. They found that after an initial decline, sperm quality stabilizes and does not continue to deteriorate.

More than 10,000 Americans each year suffer from spinal cord injury--four in five are young or middle-aged men--and it seems they can now take their time in deciding when to start a family.

Saturday March 17 12:32 PM EST
Key to Spinal Cord Regrowth Found

By Randy Dotinga
HealthScout Reporter

FRIDAY, March 16 (HealthScout) -- It seems nothing short of a miracle when people with spinal cord injuries regain the ability to move their paralyzed limbs.

But new research on rats suggests the secret to recovery may lie in the remarkable powers of the body to make new nerve connections to replace damaged ones.

The study noted, however, that if too much of the spinal cord is damaged -- as is often the case in human acidents -- the regeneration will not occur.

In an experiment done at the University of California at San Diego, scientists destroyed 97 percent of two groups of spinal connections that help rats move their feet and forepaws. Within a month, the remaining pathways had grown at a furious pace and the rats moved as though nothing had happened.

The research, described in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, gives scientists more insight into spinal cord injuries and could lead to new treatments, says study co-author Dr. Mark Tuszynski.

Tuszynski and other researchers surgically injured the spinal cords of rats. The injuries were designed to be similar to neck injuries suffered by humans during car and diving accidents.

Some rats in the study were left with just 3 percent of their nerve capacity in two spinal regions. The remaining fibers "sprouted" new connections, much as a tree branch starts to grow after it has been pruned, Tuszynski explains. Evolution may have developed this response to help mammals compensate for damage to the nervous system from trauma.

After their nerve fibers began to sprout, the rats recovered about 80 percent of their ability to move their forepaws and feet, Tuszynski says.

Researchers tested the rats by checking to see if they could extend their forepaws, grasp food pellets and bring the pellets to their mouths.

Dr. Wise Young, a specialist on spinal cord injury at Rutgers University, explains the research by comparing the brain to the headquarters of a military operation and the spinal cord to a system of cables that carries messages to army divisions.

"Imagine that a bomb lands on the main command cable that carries the direct commands, leaving only a small cable to carry out the direct commands," he explains.

The military can still communicate by rebuilding the small cable and utilizing back-up cables that have not been damaged, he says. This is similar to what the spinal cord does after a serious injury.

But without undamaged connections to rely on, the body is in trouble. The study found that nothing happened if all connections in two areas of the spinal cord were destroyed.

Wise added that even if a group of nerve fibers can regenerate, they might not always be able to make up for other damaged parts of the spinal cord.

Tuszynski said future studies would try to find ways to increase the amount of "natural sprouting" that occurs after spinal injuries.

In the long run, it may be easier to coax healthy spinal fibers into "sprouting" than to make damaged fibers grow again, he says.

What To Do

There are a variety of research projects investigating how to help victims of spinal injuries regain use of their bodies. The National Institutes of Health has information on other experimental and other therapies for spinal cord damage.

Washington University in St. Louis has its own site on spinal cord injuries, including tests to gauge how much you know.

New Research Initiative for SCI

CytRx Corporation announced that it has kicked off a new research program to study the effects of its investigational drug, CRL-1550 (a new formulation of purified poloxamer 188), on spinal cord injury.

Researchers believe that a significant portion of spinal cord damage results from a secondary progression of damage after the initial injury.

This secondary injury results from membrane injury to nerve cells, causing them to lose function over time.

CytRx Corporation's agent, CRL-1550, is being tested for its ability to interact with damaged nerve membranes in such a way as to "seal" the damage and restore membrane integrity.

If successful, this treatment could limit the progression of secondary, post-injury damage, thereby maintaining or restoring spinal cord function.

Martin Emanuele, Ph.D., VP of Research and Business Development at CytRx commented, "We believe this is a promising area for investigation and plan to initiate pre-clinical studies shortly at two centers known for excellence in spinal cord trauma research. Based on the outcome of those studies, we believe we can proceed very quickly with the clinical development of this agent since the program will benefit from the existing safety and manufacturing capabilities already in place for our CRL-5861 (purified poloxamer 188) program."

END NOTES
(This story was posted on February 16, 2001)

Cruise Company May Improve Accessibility

By Antonio Fins

Carnival Cruise Lines may soon begin the process of retrofitting as many as 15 cruise ships to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.

The Miami cruise line is close to reaching an agreement with the advocacy group Access Now. Under the proposed deal, Access Now attorney, Matthew Dietz, said Carnival will make improvements to cabins, lounges, theaters and public restrooms to accommodate folks using wheelchairs, walkers and other forms of help to navigate the vessel. He said ships will also be equipped with an access route for wheelchair-bound passengers to get around.

Carnival spokesman ,Tim Gallagher, would not comment on the negotiations with Access Now.

"We have been working very diligently to address all of those concerns that have been brought to our attention by Access Now.  However,  at this point there is not a final agreement and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this until it is in its final form," said Gallagher.

Dietz confirmed that a detailed agreement has been negotiated with the cruise line following two years of talking and studying by Carnival and the Miami Beach advocacy group.

He said, the accord still requires approval from the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation.

"What the settlement does is, it improves access for people in wheelchairs," said Dietz. He said, the agreement also calls for the cruise line to provide better information about issues related to disabled travellers so that "there are no surprises" once passengers with special needs get on board.

Dietz said, the accord between Access Now and Carnival, once it is finalized, will be a landmark of sorts.

He said the deal would avoid a legal struggle with the cruise line, which will make the changes to the cruise ships on a voluntary basis without conceding that it must do so under ADA provisions.

Dietz said, the accord "is the first agreement to make vessels accessible" to ADA standards.

The upgrades may be completed while the ships are in dry-dock for scheduled maintenance. It may take up to six years to complete the improvements to all the ships.

END NOTES

Copyright 2001 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

It is not what happens to you that determines your fate but what you do about it. - author unknown

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