Protection and repair of the injured spinal cord: a review of completed, ongoing, and planned clinical trials for acute spinal cord injury

Neurosurg Focus. 2008;25(5):E14. doi: 10.3171/FOC.2008.25.11.E14.


Over the past 2 decades, advances in understanding the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury (SCI) have stimulated the recent emergence of several therapeutic strategies that are being examined in Phase I/II clinical trials. Ten randomized controlled trials examining methylprednisolone sodium succinate, tirilizad mesylate, monosialotetrahexosylganglioside, thyrotropin releasing hormone, gacyclidine, naloxone, and nimodipine have been completed. Although the primary outcomes in these trials were laregely negative, a secondary analysis of the North American Spinal Cord Injury Study II demonstrated that when administered within 8 hours of injury, methylprednisolone sodium succinate was associated with modest clinical benefits, which need to be weighed against potential complications. Thyrotropin releasing hormone (Phase II trial) and monosialotetrahexosylganglioside (Phase II and III trials) also showed some promise, but we are unaware of plans for future trials with these agents. These studies have, however, yielded many insights into the conduct of clinical trials for SCI. Several current or planned clinical trials are exploring interventions such as early surgical decompression (Surgical Treatment of Acute Spinal Cord Injury Study) and electrical field stimulation, neuroprotective strategies such as riluzole and minocycline, the inactivation of myelin inhibition by blocking Nogo and Rho, and the transplantation of various cellular substrates into the injured cord. Unfortunately, some experimental and poorly characterized SCI therapies are being offered outside a formal investigational structure, which will yield findings of limited scientific value and risk harm to patients with SCI who are understandably desperate for any intervention that might improve their function. Taken together, recent advances suggest that optimism for patients and clinicians alike is justified, as there is real hope that several safe and effective therapies for SCI may become available over the next decade.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Healing / drug effects*


  • Neuroprotective Agents