Nobody ever knows how they will respond to trauma—whether it happens to you or somebody you love. In the case of my accident, my family all found their own ways to cope. What did I notice? My husband put all of his energy into caring for me. My dad threw himself into renovating our home and my mother-in-law was consumed with taking care of our children. But my father-in-law, he dove head first into research—he needed to fix this.
Now we all know people who are fixers—people that see a problem and need to find a solution. My father-in-law, Dr. Harold Punnett DMD (more affectionately known to me as Grandpa or HP), is one of those people. When he started sifting through the internet in search of a cure, we believed he was fighting an impossible battle, but we let him be. He would occasionally bring up things he found, but my focus wasn’t on a cure—it was on getting strong, getting home and learning to make the most out of my life. However, he was not deterred and one day found something really interesting.
Because there isn’t a cure for spinal cord injury, recovery is somewhat of a lottery. Every SCI is different as is the recovery and while there are some experimental treatments out there such as epidural stimulation and stem cells, a cure is elusive because nobody knows how to re-grow nerves. But what if they did?
Somewhere in all of his reading, Harold came across a technology that looked promising. For the last three years he has worked tirelessly with the inventors, scientific advisors and numerous other professionals to see this technology through more studies and transform it into a company—NervGen. NervGen is now a public company that has already raised approximately 14 million dollars CAD. They are working towards clinical trials with some pretty amazing data thus far. So, what is it all about? I’m going to give you my version using my favourite analogy for SCI: Christmas lights.
Imagine each section of your spinal cord is a string of Christmas lights—each one plugged into the next, lighting up by the power of your brain. If you unplug one of the strings, everything below goes dark. It is the same when you get a spinal cord injury. The connection of nerves is interrupted as though they unplug from one another and everything below the injury stops receiving signals from the brain. But just as the connectors still exist on each string of the unplugged Christmas lights, the nerves still exist on either side of the injured spinal cord. In a perfect world, we would simply reconnect them. But during the healing process, a barrier forms between the connectors—like a piece of wood between the Christmas lights—and the connection cannot be made.
Dr. Jerry Silver—the inventor behind NervGen—along with his team, developed a compound that gets injected subcutaneously into the patient (a fancy way of saying it gets injected into the skin with a needle—much like when you get an immunization). This compound works to remove the barrier at the site of an injury so that the nerves can grow through and reconnect. In numerous studies using rat models they have seen major functional recovery of bladder and locomotive symptoms—with some of the animals reaching complete recovery.
The thing that makes this technology even better? It may be applicable in many other cases of nerve damage whether caused by trauma or certain diseases (see graphic below). However, the current development is geared toward spinal cord injury and peripheral nerve injury.
Now, I’m clearly not about the technical stuff. For that, you need to check out NervGen’s website—and I highly recommend you check out NervGen’s website. Like any new drug, these things take time. Phase 1 clinical trials are slated to start in 2020. Is it exciting? Definitely! This has the potential to change the lives of people with spinal cord injury. But I for one will continue to live my wonderful life until that day comes so that it is simply one hell of an amazing bonus.