After someone experiences a spinal cord injury, doctors set off on a race against the clock. Within a few hours, they rush patients into surgery and administer anti-inflammatory drugs, ranging from over-the-counter medications like Advil to the steroid methylprednisolone, to avoid as much damage as possible — keeping in mind that post-injury swelling and insufficient blood supply can wreak further damage on neurons. After intervening during this narrow window of time, scientists have long thought that the chances of additional recovery grow slim.
“The dominant thinking was that you should focus on acute injuries,” Aileen Anderson, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, Irvine, tells Inverse. “If you could just hit a magic bullet at that stage and minimize the amount of damage that’s happening because it kind of rolls out over days and a couple of weeks … this was the place to target.”