Sometimes I just want to slap Science on the back and tell it that it’s doing a great job. Like today, for example, when I heard about an experimental treatment for vets with spinal cord injuries that’s being run by Johns Hopkins. The study’s participants gained an “unprecedented” restoration of neurological function, but not a new drug or an innovative surgery. Their breakthrough therapy was scuba diving.
The first germ of the idea came from Cody Unser, a young woman who was paralyzed from the chest down as a teenager. Fortunately enough, Unser was also the member of a prominent (and wealthy) auto-racing family, so when she noticed that she regained some feeling in her legs while scuba-diving, she was able to sponsor this pilot study through her foundation. The next thing you know, the Hopkins researchers were flying to the Caribbean with ten wheelchair-dependent vets, ready to embark on a series of dives. And though the study only examined a small number of people, the results were striking: the vets showed significant gains in muscle movement, increased sensitivity to sensation, and large reductions in PTSD and OCD symptoms. (Healthy controls who dove along with the vets showed no neurologic changes.)
The researchers are still trying to explain just how and why the underwater experience had such a restorative effect. Was it the buoyancy? The increased oxygenation of tissues from pressurized air? The beautiful Caribbean waters? Sure, there are plenty of questions to be answered, and more studies to do. But for right now, we’re just happy to hear that there’s hope for those with spinal cord injuries. Good job, Science.