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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Optimism over nerve research
Spinal therapy
Spinal injuries can cause paralysis
Victims of spinal cord injuries have new hope thanks to work by a Northern Irealnd scientist.

Dr Marie Filbin has discovered that a drug, developed as an anti depressant, may help regenerate damaged nerves.

The scientist from Lurgan, County Armagh, who is based in the United States, says tests on laboratory rats have been encouraging.

Dr Filbin is Professor of Biology at the City University of New York.

Her study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), is one of two which uses a combination of drugs and implantation of cells.

"We are really confident," she told BBC Northern Ireland.

It is a wonderful advance, it is some of the best results that have been seen in animal models of spinal cord injuries
Dr Marie Filbin
City University of New York

It may not be the magic bullet, it may have to be used in combination with other therapies, but it is really important.

"We used a combination of this drug, plus implantation of cells into the lesion sites.

"It wasn't just the drug alone that made this wonderful improvement in the rats' ability to recover from a spinal cord injury, it was the combination."

Dr Filbin, who left the province to pursue her studies in England and America, said she went because of the Troubles and the lack of opportunities for further study in the 1970s and 1980s.

She said that while the new treatment was encouraging, people should not overestimate its capabilities.

"Everybody thinks that recovery from spinal cord injury is being able to walk again," she said.

"Patients afflicted by spinal injuries, their immediate desire is small increments in improvement, being able to use their hands again, being able to use their bladder.

"Those are more reasonable to realise in the short term than being able to walk again.

"In terms of that type of recovery there may be good hope.

"It is a wonderful advance, it is some of the best results that have been seen in animal models of spinal cord injuries."

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