By: Staff  Date: 01/13/2012 Category: | Research Reports |

"I know I'll walk again," said Greg Mankle.

A bold statement from a man who has largely been confined to a wheelchair for 10 years and has no immediate prospects for regaining the use of his legs. But like many people who have benefited from the humane use of animals in biomedical research, Greg has faith that through continued use of animals, scientists will make even more dramatic progress than they have during the first 40 years of his life. He's confident that these future discoveries will benefit him just as past breakthroughs have.

When Greg was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1986, the twelfth thoracic vertebra of his spine pinched his spinal cord. Greg said that while he has fared better than victims of spinal injuries in the past, he also knows that if he had the same accident today, he might still have at least partial use of his legs because of recent medical discoveries.

"When the ambulance arrived and the paramedics were working on me, I still had some feeling in my legs," Greg remembered. "My spinal cord was pinched, not severed. What we know today is that when that happens, pressure on the spine combined with the reduction of blood flow (which results in decreased glucose and oxygen) causes paralysis."

Greg noted that it is through research using mice, rats, and cats that scientists now understand how this happens, giving them a much better chance to figure out how to prevent paralysis in such cases. Already, groundbreaking work with very high doses of steroids has produced favorable results.

While paraplegics and quadraplegics are frequently seen living full and active lives today, Greg said he realizes that at one time spinal cord injuries led to shortened life spans and even death. For example, disposal of body wastes once led to deadly infections, but catheterization and learning to retrain the body to handle waste disposal have saved many paraplegics from these illnesses. "In those days, doctors had not yet learned how to deal with all of the side effects of these injuries; spinal cord research was still in its infancy," he said.

Research on goats and sheep enabled doctors to take a piece of bone from Greg's hip and use it to fuse his spine, ensuring its stability and preventing further damage to the spinal cord. Greg also observed that using animals in research has resulted in other discoveries that may seem less dramatic but have been just as important to spinal cord injury victims. Behavioral research has led to the training of service dogs for paraplegics and quadraplegics. These dogs perform tasks as simple as picking up a dropped item or as complex as freeing a stuck wheelchair.

Greg and his wife live in Maple Valley near Kent, Washington. Greg enjoys water skiing, hand-powered bicycling, weight training, basketball, and good food. He is a member of Incurably Ill for Animal Research, an organization that provides the patient's perspective on the humane use of animals in biological, medical, and behavioral research and testing. Patty Wood can be reached at the Washington Association for Biomedical Research, (206) 621-8556.

photo credit: The Parking Lot via photopin (license)

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