Health

SPINAL CORD INJURIES

It's Time for a Paradigm Shift

The tragedy is epic. Christopher Reeve, "Superman" of the big screen, broke his neck in a horseback riding accident and was rendered quadriplegic.

It's horrific. This actor, whose signature character is invincible, appears to be unable to even move his fingers or sit in a wheelchair without being strapped in. Of course, many others have been similarly stricken, but Christopher Reeve's injury has done more to focus attention on the tragedy of spinal cord injury than anything imaginable. A lot of money has been and will continue to be raised in the name of "Superman" to research new treatments for these injuries.

Well, folks, there are two approaches to spinal cord trauma that have been crying in the wilderness for decades. One has tremendous potential in preventing paralysis when administered immediately after injury, and the other, a surgical procedure, has restored function months, even years, after injury. Both of these therapies have produced miraculous results in spinal cord injury patients, yet experts in the field inexplicably ignore them.

DMSO Protects the Spine in the Acute Phase

First, let's talk about dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a unique substance that prevents spinal cord damage, including paralysis, if administered within one hour of injury.

DMSO works on three principles. It is the most powerful known hydroxy radical scavenger. Injury to the spinal cord generates a cascade of hydroxy free radicals that extend the damage by killing the cells of the spinal cord. DMSO's unique antioxidant activity effectively interrupts this damaging chain of events before neural cord tissues are destroyed.

Second, DMSO is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and dramatically reduces swelling. This is of vital importance in spinal cord injuries, as it is compression of the nerves and tissues, as they swell within the bony spinal column (or skull in head injury) and cut off blood and oxygen delivery, which is thought to render most of the damage to the spinal cord or brain. DMSO increases blood flow and oxygen availability to the injured area.

Third, DMSO actually reduces the amount of oxygen needed by the cells. No one knows how it does this, but there is no question that DMSO alters the oxygen dynamics of individual cells. This is obviously important in any injury, as oxygen deprivation leads to cell death and permanent damage.

Animal Studies with DMSO Are Convincing

Extensive animal research has demonstrated that DMSO significantly reduces the effects of spinal cord or head trauma if administered shortly after injury. In one particularly dramatic study, 24 mongrel dogs were anesthetized and the blood supply to the midsection of the spinal cord was shut off. Twelve of the dogs received a saline solution, and the other 12 received a solution of DMSO. The procedure lasted for 30 minutes.

At the end of the experiment, 11 of the 12 control animals (receiving saline solution) had complete paralysis in the lower extremities, with only one having any perceptible movement of his joints. However, in the DMSO group 11 out of the 12 had complete recovery and could walk and run, with the remaining dog having only slight weakness. There was also microscopic evidence of ischemic changes and cell damage in the control group but not in those which received DMSO.

A Quadriplegic Walked out of the Hospital After DMSO Treatment

There have been a few cases in which DMSO was successfully used to treat humans with spinal cord injuries. J.C. de la Torre, M.D., one of the early DMSO researchers, documented a case 20 years ago that should have opened the door for intensive research.

A patient was admitted to a hospital in Chicago with an "incomplete" spinal cord injury - he had function from the neck downward. However, when he was being shifted to a bed in the hospital, his neck was moved, the injury was exacerbated, and the patient became completely quadriplegic, exhibiting no sensation or muscle activity below the injury. One of the medical residents on staff, who happened to be assisting Dr. de la Torre in his study of the effects of DMSO, quickly administered an intravenous infusion of DMSO. Within tow hours of receiving the IV, this quadriplegic patient began moving his toes. Incredibly, he later left the hospital with full function.

This was a unique case, both because DMSO was administered so quickly and the patient's recovery was so miraculous and unprecedented. It was widely reported in the Chicago newspapers, but not one spinal surgery or trauma center ever took the interest to follow up on this case or study DMSO as a therapy for spinal cord injury.

DMSO Should Be an Adjunct Treatment

DMSO is also highly effective in the treatment of closed head trauma (the type of head injury resulting from a car accident or blow to the head) and can prevent some of its neurological consequences, as well. Currently large doses of steroids are the treatment of choice for both spinal cord and head injury. The addition of DMSO to that protocol would in no way interfere with current therapies, as steroids and DMSO function quite differently. Because DMSO is exceptionally safe, and its potential benefits have been demonstrated in animal studies and in very limited use in humans - and because these injuries have such tragic consequences - I strongly feel that DMSO should immediately be elevated to conventional use.

Would Christopher Reeve have been helped with infusions of DMSO immediately after his injury? Difficult to say. Should he have been given DMSO immediately after his injury? In my opinion, based on existing literature and its excellent safety record, unequivocally yes.

This Remarkable Surgery Reverses Paralysis

Now let's turn our attention to what can be done for rehabilitation. I reported in June 1997 on omental transposition, an extremely fascinating operative procedure that makes use of the therapeutic and healing properties of the omentum. The omentum, an apron of fat that lies over the intestines in the lower abdomen, is a remnant of the embryonic membrane and yolk sac. It is extremely rich in nutrients, growth factors, and other substances that facilitate increased blood supply and stimulate growth and healing. This surgery has been demonstrated in animal studies to significantly increase blood flow to injured areas, as well as functional regeneration of the nerves.

Harry Goldsmith, M.D., has pioneered a surgical technique freeing the omentum from the abdominal cavity and, with its blood supply intact, laying it over injured areas in the spinal cord or brain. His results have been dramatic and certainly lay to rest the belief that after a spinal cord injury, no significant return of function is possible.

A Quadriplegic Regained Use of His Arms

One of Dr. Goldsmith's patients, Darren Renna, was an Olympic-class gymnast when he sustained a neck fracture that rendered him quadriplegic at age 17. Like Christopher Reeve, he was disabled to the point that he required a strap to hold him in a wheelchair, and he had virtually no use of either arm. One-and-a-half years after the injury Darren underwent omental transposition and today has almost full function of both arms. He can power his own wheelchair, write, and has embarked on a career of judging gymnastics events.

Dr. Goldsmith has performed this procedure many times in other countries where omental transposition is used for spinal cord injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, and Alzheimer's disease. Yet there is irrational and often petty resistance to acknowledging its potential in this country.

Could omental transposition help Christopher Reeve? In my opinion, absolutely. Any return of function - and some would be expected - would be a blessing. Is he likely to have it?

No. Christopher Reeve is now very strongly aligned with conventional medical forces. I believe that this alignment will continue to divert funds into validating current therapies, instead of researching paradigm-breaking innovations like DMSO and omental transposition.


Recommendations

If you or a loved one has suffered from a spinal cord injury with resulting paralysis, you owe it to yourself to look into omental transposition. For more information, you may write to Harry Goldsmith, M.D., at P.O. Box 493, Glenbrook, Nevada 89413 (fax 702/749-5861).

To stimulate research on both DMSO and omental transposition in spinal cord injury, you can make a donation to the DMSO Research Institute. This is one of my favorite charities, and donations are fully tax-deductible. the address is: DMSO Research Institute, c/o Stanley Jacob, M.D., L225, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon 97201

You might want to send a copy of this newsletter to Mr. Christopher Reeve, Chairman, American Paralysis Association, 500 Morris Avenue, Springfield, New Jersey 07081.

I hope you'll join me in getting the word out to the medical establishment and people with spinal cord injuries to take a look "outside the box."

Julian Whitaker, M.D.

Editor

(Reprint, Health & Healing, Tomorrow's Medicine Today (800/539-8219), Special Supplement, May 1998)


Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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