Research could change how blood pressure is managed in spinal cord injury patients

A new study by UBC faculty of medicine researchers challenges the current standard for managing blood pressure in people with spinal cord injury (SCI).

The findings, recently published in Nature Communications, could lead to a change in the way newly injured patients have their blood pressure managed, potentially improving their chances of retaining more function in the long term.

This study—led by Dr. Christopher West, an associate professor in UBC’s department of cellular and physiological sciences, research scientist with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, and principal investigator at the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), and Dr. Brian Kwon, professor in UBC’s department of orthopaedics and ICORD principal investigator— demonstrated that following high-thoracic SCI, the heart’s ability to contract is impaired, leading to reduced spinal cord blood flow. High-thoracic SCI generally refers to injuries that affect the abdominal and lower back muscles and the legs, typically resulting in paraplegia, while arm and hand function may not be affected.

Currently, a patient being treated for acute SCI—a traumatic injury that bruises, partially or fully tears the spinal cord—has their blood pressure managed using drugs that cause their blood vessels to constrict in order to increase blood pressure.

In this study, the research team tested an experimental treatment targeting the heart to beat more powerfully, which increased the amount of blood ejected and also increased blood pressure.

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This story originally appeared on the UBC Faculty of Medicine website.

Dr. Brian Kwon

Dr. Chris West