Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 10:03 GMT
Scientists have uncovered evidence that actor Christopher Reeve could make a full recovery from paralysis if his spinal injury can be fixed.
Reeve, the star of the Superman films, was paralysed from the neck down after damaging his spinal cord in a riding fall seven years ago.
But doctors at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, have discovered that his brain has maintained a near-normal ability to detect feeling and movement.
This suggests that Reeve - and maybe others who have suffered spinal injury - may still be ready to pick up where they left off, should a treatment be found.
It had been feared that, without input from the nerves, the brain would start using those areas used to move and feel limbs for other purposes. But in experiments, doctors found they could still activate the correct areas of Reeve's the brain in response to touch.
Professor Harold Burton, who led the research, said: "Even though this individual had not been able to move for years, motor patterns in the brain were relatively normal.
"That's very encouraging, because it means that this part of the brain doesn't disappear or lose its ability to function properly.
"The key might be that, though this individual's injury was extremely severe, a small portion of the spinal cord is still intact."
Experts believe that they are making genuine progress towards a method of repairing, at least partly, the damage caused by spinal injuries. Professor Roger Lemon, from the Institute of Neurology in London, told BBC News Online: "It's certainly an important finding.
"However, the problem is that there is an awful lot goes on in the brain that is not to do with the final execution of movement - there could be a missing link somewhere.
"There are several groups working on ways to repair damaged spinal cord, and things are looking far more hopeful than they were five years ago.
"Our own group is planning to start clinical trials in people in between two and four years."
Reeve was paralysed in 1995 after a fall that severed most of the nerves in the spinal bundle that carries signals between his brain and the rest of his body.
He started a concentrated programme of exercise and electrical muscle stimulation in 1999 and doctors announced earlier this year that the actor had slowly recovered limited sensation and movement.
September 13, 2002
(AP) -- Actor Christopher Reeve's surprising ability to move and feel again after years of paralysis is likely to encourage doctors to try to reverse other seemingly hopeless spinal injuries.
The "Superman" star, paralyzed in a riding accident in 1995, regained sensation and modest movement after joining a rigorous physical therapy program at Washington University in St. Louis three years ago.
The result, doctors say, is the first documented case of partial reversal after years of paralysis. Typically, doctors tell paralyzed patients that most improvement occurs in the first six months with no hope of recovery beyond two years.
"The truth is, we don't know," said Dr. Kevin O'Connor, head of spinal cord injury recovery at Boston's Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. "Given this report, it's really unfair to patients to say there is a time limit."
Still, doctors do not know whether similar programs will help other patients, whether Reeve will continue to improve or even whether the exercise program was responsible for his change.
Neuroscientist Naomi Kleitman, head of spinal cord injury research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said Reeve made "an unprecedented amount of recovery" and added, "its significance is that people will begin to emphasize the importance of rehabilitation and look at it in more ordinary people with these injuries."
The first clear sign of change occurred one early November day almost two years ago, when Reeve twitched his left index finger. By then, he had been immobile from the neck down for more than five years, unable to feel or move anything. But the movement was the start of a slow rebirth of sensation and control that he says has changed his life for the better.
Reeve, who turns 50 on September 25, still must use a wheelchair. All but one hour a day, he uses a ventilator to breathe. But he can feel human touch, experience pain and move his fingers, wrists and legs.
"His was the worst-case scenario," said Dr. John W. McDonald, who oversaw his treatment. "Nobody in the world would have predicted he could recover."
Reeve was thrown from a horse seven years ago and landed on his helmet, breaking his neck and damaging the thumb-size bundle of nerves that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. At least three-quarters of the nerve fibers were severed, and what remained did not work. Over the years, his muscles withered, his bones thinned, and he suffered repeated bouts of infection and life-threatening complications.
After years of his own exercise efforts, the actor began a rigorous approach called activity-based recovery, which involves repeated electrical stimulation of the muscles. The idea is that constant motion could re-educate the remaining nerves in the spine to carry signals and perhaps even sprout new branches to connect to healthy fibers above and below the injury.
For an hour three times a week at home, Reeve sat on an exercise bicycle while electrical stimulation made his legs pump the pedals. Similar stimulation was done to other muscle groups. Next he began weekly aquatherapy, working his muscles in a pool for two hours at a time. McDonald described the results in a report in the September issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, including an interview he did with Reeve during the summer.
Now, Reeve can tell hot from cold. He can feel about two-thirds of the normal sensation of being touched and half of the usual intensity of pinpricks. This ability to feel lets him know when he should shift his weight, so he can sit in a wheelchair up to 16 hours a day without getting pressure sores.
In the water, he can make flying motions with his arms and walk. However, he still requires around-the-clock nursing care, and out of the pool, he cannot raise his arms or walk without being held up.
Reeve told McDonald that knowing he can breathe on his own has relieved his terror of a ventilator failure, and life with his family is much more normal.
"They know I am healthier, stronger, and that on any day, I might have a surprising recovery," he said. For instance, after a recent session in the pool, "my ability to push off from the wall against resistance was about twice as strong as it was weeks earlier."
Gaining sensation has also been important. "It makes a huge difference if someone touches you on the hand, and you can feel it," he said. "You make a much more meaningful connection."
Doctors say they also cannot be sure, from a single case, whether repetitive movements actually do revive the wiring of the spine to carry lost messages. But several said they believe Reeve's unusual course of physical therapy played a role in his recovery.
"I can't help but think it had something do with it," said Dr. John Jane, who treated Reeve at the University of Virginia soon after the accident. "People often begin to recover right away. The fact is, he did not. It's the late recovery that is so absolutely unique."
September 10, 2002 Posted: 2:07 PM EDT (1807 GMT)
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Actor Christopher Reeve -- paralyzed since 1995 -- is experiencing slight movement in his fingers and toes, his doctor told CNN on Tuesday. "To be able to feel just the lightest touch," he said, "is really a gift." He can feel hugs from his wife and children, he told People magazine in the issue that will be available on newsstands Friday.
Dr. John McDonald, a leader in the field of spinal cord regeneration, said he couldn't predict whether his patient will walk again, but told People: "The fact that he's having some recovery could make that a possibility."
"The belief is that most recovery occurs in the first six months, and that if it's not complete in two years, it's pretty much over. ... And typically, you know, someone [who] doesn't have any recovery early, won't have any recovery late," McDonald said. Reeve's improvement "really changes the playing field in terms of what's possible."
Reeve, who will turn 50 on September 25 and is best known for playing Superman in the 1978 movie and sequels, was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1995 riding accident. Reeve fell from a horse during an equestrian event, and broke two bones in his neck. He once vowed to walk before his 50th birthday.
"The fact is that even if your body doesn't work the way it used to, the heart, the mind and the spirit are not diminished," Reeve told People. "It's as simple as that."
Spokesman Wes Combs told CNN that the actor has some movement in his left fingers, right hand and left toes. In addition, Reeve previously was on a ventilator nearly constantly, but can now stay off the machine for 90 minutes at a time.
Based on his research, McDonald said a case never has been documented where someone has that degree of recovery from a spinal cord injury after nearly seven years.
McDonald is assistant professor of Neurology and Neurological Surgery at Washington School of Medicine and director of the Spinal Cord Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis.
Reeve, who has undergone intensive physical therapy since his accident, spends about $500,000 a year on his treatment, he told Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent. But McDonald said it will take awhile before it's determined whether his therapy alone is responsible for the improvement.
"He can feel things now that he previously couldn't feel, pins and needles at times and also being able to feel human touch," Gupta reported. The slight improvements in Reeve's sense of feeling was captured earlier this year on videotape.
"While it sounds pretty small, in terms of overall improvements, there usually is very little recovery that occurs after the first 18 months after a spinal cord injury," Gupta said.
In February, Reeve welcomed Britain's decision to allow continued research on cloned human embryos. He hopes to see a cure developed by removing DNA from a human embryo and infusing it into the spine of a paralyzed victim to develop into healthy new nerve cells.
McDonald said there was no use of stem cells in Reeve's case.
Last year, Reeve established the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, an education resource facility for people with paralysis and their families.
----- Original Message -----
From: Sarah L
To: Michael McClellan
Sent: Saturday, March 23, 2002 6:05 AM
Subject: Christopher Reeve
Here is an article from a UK newspaper regarding Christopher Reeve that you may be interested to read:-
Monday 25 Feb 2002
PARALYSED actor Christopher Reeve will come to Britain for controversial new medical treatment which could make him walk again... IF the House of Lords gives the final go-ahead to the pioneering research.
The 49-year-old Superman star, crippled from the neck down in a 1995 riding accident, is anxious to have stem cell therapy. He said yesterday: "Without it, I will spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. With it, I have no doubt I can be cured."
Reeve's problem is that the technology has been condemned by the Pope and pro-Life organisations and is banned in America where it was developed on mice. So he is pinning his hopes on a Lords' select committee ruling this week that doctors in Britain should be allowed to carry out the treatment. It involves removing DNA from a human embryo and infusing it into the spine of a paralysed victim so it develops into healthy new nerve cells.Pro-Life groups are opposed because the versatile stem cells, which are formed in the first few days of life, can be gathered from abortion clinics. The Pope also says it devalues human life.
But Reeve argued on Radio 5 Live: "We are not talking about destroying life, which begins at the moment of fertilisation of a sperm and an egg. "The committee and the public must understand that stem cells can be taken out of embryos that are not really embryos as they are not fertilised."
Government health experts believe the benefits outweigh ethical concerns and the process could also treat motor neurone disease and Alzheimer's. But the select committee still has to ratify last year's overwhelming vote by Commons and Lords in favour of the research.
Reeve insisted: "I have virtually no doubt I could walk again as my spinal cord has not been cut and my injury is confined in one very small area. "The nerves lack the coding that allows electrical impulses to come down from the brain. It's my big chance."
I can also tell you that the Lord's select committee did in fact rule in favour of the stem cell research/human cloning going ahead and the first licences have already been granted. Looks like it will be only a matter of time now until this prediction is fulfilled!