Feinstein Institute study sheds light on combating infections tied to spinal cord injury

Dr. Ona Bloom, associate professor, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research

Dr. Ona E. Bloom, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research , associate professor has uncovered that white blood cell genes are present at different levels in people with spinal cord injury.

These findings, published yesterday online in the “Journal of Neurotrauma,” are a first step to understanding and developing better interventions for infections in people with spinal cord injury, which is the leading cause of death in these individuals. 

There are an estimated 17,000 new traumatic spinal cord injuries each year in the United States and approximately 353,000 Americans living with spinal cord injury.

Despite advances in acute and chronic care, the life expectancy for individuals with spinal cord injury is significantly below those who do not have spinal cord injury.

Infections are the leading cause of death for persons with spinal cord injury, who are more than 80 times more likely to die of sepsis than individuals who don’t have a spinal cord injury.

The molecular basis for infection susceptibility in persons with spinal cord injury isn’t fully understood, which is why Bloom and her colleagues conducted this study.

“While infections are a very important clinical problem for people living with spinal cord injury, we know very little about the biological basis for the increased infection susceptibility,” Bloom said.

“We also know very little about why people living with spinal cord injury often experience chronic inflammation. Our discovery of the difference in genes in white blood cells in individuals with spinal cord injury could offer us additional insight into the cause of this susceptibility, which could eventually lead to new interventions.”

 Bloom and her lab collaborated with Northwell Health colleagues Dr. Adam Stein, chairman of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and Dr. Peter Gregersen, director of the Robert S. Boas Center for Genomics and Human Genetics at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Bloom, Stein and Gregersen are professors at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra Northwell.

The study was funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

 Bloom and her colleagues will continue this work by examining how specific types of white blood cells from people with spinal cord injury respond to infectious challenges.

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