The X-Ray Treatment

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Research done on rats suggests x-rays could become a valuable tool in treating spinal cord injuries. A scientist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has discovered that correctly timed x-rays in the right dosage can allow severed spinal cords to partially heal, and can restore some use to paralyzed limbs. When the spinal cord is severed the limbs are paralyzed and the injury does not heal. A precisely timed dose of X-rays prevent the formation of cells called reactive astrocytes, which block the growth of damaged nerve fibers. Curiously, the rats need their dose of radiation during the third week following the injury. If the x-rays are administered later, the treatment does not work. None of the rats made a full recovery, admitted Dr. Nurit Kalderon who conducted the research, because that would have required therapy, not practical with rats. Extensive work and more research is needed before the study can be applied to humans. "The results are interesting because of what they reveal about how the spinal cord behaves in injury," says TIME's Christine Gorman. "But it may not provide a lot of information about how to treat the injuries. First of all, the research was done on rats, which means it might not transfer directly to humans. Secondly, the rats' spinal cords were severed in a laboratory, which imitates but does not duplicate the way humans are injured in the real world." Injuries to the spinal cord are often much messier than under laboratory conditions, with multiple fractures complicating how well any treatment can work. Still, the development does offer important clues towards finding a way to reverse the devastating impact of a spinal cord injury. Josh Dubow