A Japanese study out of the Jichi Medical University School of Medicine and the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine recently found a drug used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) may also effectively treat spinal cord injuries (SCIs). 

These researchers found in their study that this medication, which is used to slow and reduce the physical problems and flareups of MS, was able to help mice with SCIs “recover some motor function when they were given the drug immediately after the injuries,” ABC News reports.  

This medication is known as FY720, or Gilenya, and it is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company, Novartis.  It was approved by the FDA in September 2010 and is the first oral MS medication ever sold.  

This medication works to prevent SCIs by suppressing the immune system, which in turn lessens the amount of inflammation injuries cause.  Inflammation can actually worsen SCI damage.  One of the other positive results was that researchers found this medication actually helped in the regeneration of the damaged mice’s tissue.   

Though researchers are optimistic, they concede that additional testing needs to occur on larger animals before they can determine whether it holds promise for SCI patients.  However, ABC reports that skeptics point out that many treatments work in mice which do not in other animals, let alone humans. 

These experts also note that during this study, the drug was administered immediately following the SCI, which would be nearly impossible to replicate outside of the laboratory.  Therefore, scientists believe that a delay in the delivery of this drug may seriously limit its effectiveness. 

At the moment, doctors do not possess an effective drug to aid post-SCI patients.  Despite the emergence of possible treatments over the last decade, nothing has panned out so far.  Therefore, researchers continue to rely on tested methods which include rehabilitation, spinal cord stabilization, physiological monitoring, and early spinal decompression surgery. 

Some of the promising therapies in development include mild cooling of patients following an SCI and the injection of stem cells to rebuild damaged nerve pathways.  With therapies such as these in the works, doctors and researchers are optimistic that within the next five to 10 years, one or more new early intervention techniques will have been developed to give patients more function.