Ketogenic Diet for Spinal Cord Injury - Preclinical Studies

Funding Details
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Grant type: China-Canada Joint Health Research Initiative
  • Years: 2012/13 to 2015/16
  • Total Funding: $225,000
Principle Investigator(s)

Project Summary

About 4 million people worldwide live with paralysis from traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) and an estimated 200,000 SCI occur every year. Yet there is no cure and treatment is limited to surgery to stabilize the spine, and physical rehabilitation. We found that rats recover better from spinal cord injury (SCI) at the neck when eating a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in fats beginning after the injury. Known as a ketogenic diet (KD), this diet is used medically for the treatment of seizures which do not respond to medication. In past experiments, when rats experienced neck SCI, those eating the KD used the paralyzed front limb three times more frequently and were twice as successful to grasp. We are not aware of any treatment for the injured neck spinal cord that is more effective in promoting recovery of basic functions like grasping, nor easier to administer. We must address important questions in our animals before we can test this treatment on humans: (i) how long must the diet be maintained, (ii) how long can we delay the start of KD treatment after injury and still see a benefit? We will also determine whether (iii) common high calorie, carbohydrate-rich diets are damaging for the recovery of the injured spinal cord and (iv) how KD and rehabilitation treatments affect each other. The last goal is important, as rehabilitation is currently the most widely-accepted treatment after human SCI. We focus on the front limb function because hand and arm use is the highest priority for people living with neck SCI. In addition, bladder problems are very important to people living with SCI. The Canadian and Chinese groups have complementary skills, including methods for studying arm function and bladder problems. This research partnership between Canada and China will also enable multiple researchers to confirm each others results before starting human trials of this therapy and to transfer skills to Chinese researchers most able to conduct human trials of KD.

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