with registered veterinary technician Crystyn Ruth and Kady.
REGAIN USE OF HANDS
a headline that would make Richard Borgens (70, 73 M.S.)
ecstatic. The director of Purdue Universitys Center for Paralysis
Research will be happy with any improvements his research can bring
to the lives of people with spinal cord injuries.
you think of cures, you think of no paralysis at all, but for some
quadriplegics, a cure would be being paraplegics,
says Borgens, who was named a UNT Distinguished Alumnus in 1994.
Having use of your hands means the difference between feeding
yourself or not, or holding certain jobs or not. It makes you less
dependent. For others, the cure is freedom from a respirator.
which Borgens founded in 1987, recently received FDA approval to
implant devices producing weak electrical fields about 1/250,000
of a volt into humans with spinal cord injuries. Situated
near the area of an injury, the device, known as an extraspinal
oscillating field stimulator (OFS), will help to regenerate and
guide growth in the damaged nerves. It will stay in the body for
14 weeks, with the electrical flow periodically reversed to guide
nerve growth in both directions.
bodies produce natural electrical fields that control growth and
development. OFS units provide a way to generate growth when the
natural fields are disrupted through nerve injury, Borgens
and his researchers are first testing OFS units and the centers
other spinal injury treatments on dogs, paralyzed by natural causes,
who have been brought to the center by their owners for help. If
the dogs show improvement through the treatments, the treatments
are tested on humans.
Bricks and blackfly larvae
hardly expected to be a medical researcher when he entered North
Texas during the late 1960s.
was an amateur naturalist as a kid. I remember being fascinated
by salamanders regenerating legs, he says. But Texas
had two constellations for musicians Austin and Denton
and I chose to concentrate on music.
major, Borgens spent most of his undergraduate years playing guitar
with his band, The Bricks. His group of musician friends included
Don Henley, who achieved fame with the Eagles, and Jimmie Vaughan,
older brother of blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
of us lived together in the Century House Apartments and the Stella
Street Apartments, Borgens says.
stint in the Army as a medic made Borgens feel ready for something
more than rock n roll. He returned to North Texas to
earn a masters degree in biology and took a job in the lab
of Regents Professor Kenneth Stewart, picking blackfly larvae out
of stream samples.
wife was pregnant with twins, and I thought I would have to drop
out to go to work. Dr. Stewart saved me by giving me that job,
now Professor Emeritus of biological sciences, also encouraged Borgens
to become a researcher.
not certain I would be doing what Im doing now if I had not
met Dr. Redden, Borgens says.
his doctoral degree at Purdue, Borgens won a postdoctoral fellowship
from the National Paraplegia Foundation to study at Yale University.
He decided to devote his life to the treatment of spinal cord injuries
after attending the foundations annual convention and seeing
several hundred people in wheelchairs.
lot of them were in bad shape. I realized what a horribly impoverished
life many of them lead, he says.
250,000 Americans have severe spinal cord injuries, with 9,000 to
12,000 new injuries reported every year, according to the National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
most frequently occurring age at the time of injury is 19, and 19-year-olds
usually dont have good jobs that provide disability pay,
government spends an estimated $20 to $40 million each year on spinal
cord injury research. Much of the research is conducted at university
centers like Borgens.
lead the way
for Paralysis Research studies two types of treatments for spinal
cord injury those to prevent loss of functions immediately
after the injury, and those to revive functions years later.
people think a spinal cord injury is a spinal cord injury. But an
early injury is a separate problem from an injury that is many years
old, Borgens says.
out that spinal cord injuries cause not just loss of mobility, but
also respiratory and numerous other physical problems, particularly
you talk to (actor) Christopher Reeve, youll probably learn
he would rather be able to breathe normally than move his arms,
he says. Quadriplegics also want to be free from autonomic
dysreflexia, in which a small unnoticed sensation, like a bowel
blockage, can trigger rapid heartbeat and other problems and lead
sustained injuries many years ago may benefit from the drug 4-aminopyridine,
which the center developed and tested on paralyzed dogs. The drug
allows a nerve impulse to bypass blockage at a spinal cord injury
site and restore functions. Twenty of 31 dogs gained greater control
of their hind legs and increased sensation shortly after dosage.
The drug is now in human clinical trials in many medical centers
in the United States and Canada.
new spinal injuries may eventually be injected with liquid polymers
shortly after injury occurs. The polymer seals and plugs up holes
in the nerve fibers, rescuing them from death and rescuing functions,
Borgens says. The center is seeking FDA approval to test the polymers
for the future
main area of research, however, is testing OFS units on humans with
recent injuries, a collaboration with the Indiana University School
of Medicine. Seven of the 13 dogs receiving OFS implants were walking
within six months, and two walked as well as dogs that were not
hopes OFS units will be tested on 20 humans this year but cautions
that the device isnt a magic potion to allow people
to resume all functions.
would be a super-happy guy if, through our experimental treatments,
a quadriplegics ability to grasp items increases, he
says. What we look forward to in all our treatments is improving
the quality of life for paraplegics and quadriplegics. If we get
more than that, then it will be delightful.