COLUMBUS, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— People who are paralyzed after a spinal cord injury are at higher risk for other life-threatening health problems. Depending upon the location and severity of the injury, life expectancy can be shortened by years or even decades.

Researchers are studying a widely prescribed pain relief drug to see if it can block harmful changes in an injured person’s system.

A violent crash, a fall, or a sports accident. When someone is paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, there are also changes happening inside the autonomic nerve centers, putting the body into an uncontrolled state of flight or fight.

“These problems can predispose individuals living with spinal cord injuries, to things like heart attack and stroke and infections like pneumonia,” explained Faith Brennan, PhD, a research scientist at The Ohio State University.

Now, scientists at The Ohio State University are testing the FDA approved pain relief drug gabapentin to see if it can halt the damaging changes in spinal cord injury patients. The researchers tested the drug in mice and found that even one month after they stopped treatment, the benefits remained.

“Giving gabapentin early prevents these structural changes from happening. And as a result, we see reduced cardiovascular problems and also less immune suppression,” illustrated Brennan.

Researchers say because the drug is already FDA approved to treat neuropathic pain, it could more easily be repurposed for patients with spinal cord injury. The researchers are now working to determine how long treatment with gabapentin can be delayed after an injury and still benefit patients.