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St George’s scientist funded for spinal cord injury research

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Dr Samira Saadoun, a senior lecturer in neuroscience, from the Molecular & Clinical Sciences Research Institute has been awarded a three-year research grant totaling €285,658 to investigate how changes in body temperature affect patients with severe spinal cord injuries. 

Funded by the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation, the project will be a collaboration between St George’s, University of London and the Departments of Neurosurgery and Neuro-intensive care at St George’s Hospital.

Traumatic spinal cord injury is a devastating condition that affects about 1,000 people each year in the UK. St George’s Hospital is a major trauma centre in London and receives about one patient with this type of injury every month. Many of these patients experience fever in the first two weeks after injury. In some patients, the spinal cord is actively cooled in an attempt to limit the damage.

Dr Saadoun (pictured) suspects that periods of fever may worsen the damage to the injured spinal cord because patients with more fever appear to have worse outcomes. The specific effects of cooling (hypothermia) on the injured cord are also unknown, even though this has been used as a treatment for spinal cord injury for decades. The project will therefore investigate the impact of both fever and hypothermia on spinal cord health, building on Dr Saadoun’s previous research in the lab and seeing the effects in people.

To do this, Dr Saadoun has developed new techniques to monitor the injury site in patients for up to a week after surgery. A probe is placed next to the cord to monitor the pressure on the injured cord, and will also measure the levels of molecules associated with spinal cord metabolism, with the data being displayed on a screen.

This will allow the doctors to see what is happening to the spinal cord in real time, and intervene to reduce the pressure or improve the metabolism of the injured cord if needed.

Dr Saadoun will analyse the data from several probes placed at injury sites, and aims to collect thousands of samples that can then be studied in the laboratory.

She is hopeful that this work will improve treatment in future. “It is likely that this research will improve the outlook of patients with spinal cord injuries,” she said. 

“My ultimate goal is to disseminate novel treatments that have come out of our work in the last few years to other centres around the world, to help patients with spinal cord injuries.”

The grant will also support a PhD studentship, to be supervised by Dr Saadoun.

Published: 24 February 2020

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