Growth Hormone Therapy Boosts Sensory Function in Patients with Spinal Damage
Researchers have found that human growth hormone (HGH) treatment, combined with physical therapy, can help to speed up recovery in people suffering from spinal damage.
It was found in the study, which was presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology held in Portugal, that the substance produced by the pituitary gland helped to significantly enhance sensory function in patients suffering from complete spinal injuries.
Findings from the study could prove useful for development of effective treatments for people with spinal damage.
Although some studies had shown that this substance is needed for restorative and adaptive neuronal processes. But there has been limited research on how it can help to enhance recovery from spinal damage. This is the void that this study by researchers at the Hospital Quiron-Teknon and Guttmann Institute (both in Barcelona) sought to fill.
It is not uncommon for patients to witness dramatic decline in growth hormone levels following a traumatic brain injury, with around 20 percent of people who have such an injury experiencing that. Estimates also have it that between 70 and 80 percent of patients with complete spinal injuries are growth hormone-deficient.
Scientists do not fully know why these patients produce lower amount of the naturally-occurring substance.
Boosting spinal damage recovery
In this double-blind, randomized study, researchers examined 18 patients with complete spinal injury. Glucagon test revealed that 13 of these subjects suffered from growth hormone deficiency (GHD), with seven having levels lower than 3 ng/mL.
The patients were given subcutaneous growth hormone injections or placebo for a period of six months. Average age, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference were comparable for the HGH and placebo groups.
In addition to receiving growth hormone or a placebo, all of the patients underwent physical therapy for two hours a day for the entire duration of the study.
The researchers used standard spinal injury tests of motor and sensory function to evaluate recovery at the third month and again at the sixth month. Subjects treated with growth hormone showed considerable increase in their Spinal Cord Injury Independence (SCIM) III metric, which measured self-care, respiration, and sphincter control, at both three and six months.
Also, those in the treatment group experienced more significant improvement in feeling below the point of their spinal injury after six-month therapy, compared to subjects in the placebo group. This improvement could prove useful for checking pressure ulcers that often result from wheelchair use.
Further research needed
This research is the first human study to look into the relationship between spinal injuries and GHD. It showed that restoring growth hormone levels may help to enhance recovery in spinal damage patients.
A major limitation of this study, however, is that the sample size was small. Larger studies are needed to further explain the findings.
“Growth hormone is probably much more important than we think – we don’t really know the full impact,” study lead author Dr. Guillem Cuatrecasas, an endocrinologist at Hospital Quiron-Teknon who led the study, told Medscape Medical News.
He said the therapy could improve upturn in patients with spinal damage – at least, in terms of sensory function – in the future. According to him, the established concept in medical schools that a broken axon cannot be repaired is wrong.
Further work is needed to look into the distinctions between acute, sub-acute, and chronic spinal damage as well as the best growth hormone doses for treating them.
- Growth Hormone Improves Sensory Function in Complete Spinal Injury (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/880536)