Toxin helps children with cerebral palsy
A toxin that can cause fatal food poisoning can also help some children with cerebral palsy to walk.
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders resulting from brain damage that occurs before, during or shortly after birth. It is characterised by loss of movement and nerve functions. Those affected by it have problems in mobility (crawling, creeping, walking), use of hands (eating, writing, dressing) and communication.
The research was carried out at the Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They studied 185 children with the disorder and found that botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A), a toxin produced by bacteria that cause botulism, treated leg and ankle muscle contractions common in patients with cerebral palsy. After a period of 1 year, 46% reported improved walking after receiving injections of BTX-A into their calf muscles once every 3 months. After 2 years, up to 58% of these children showed improvements in their walking ability. All children were able to walk independently at the beginning of the study, although they tended to walk on their toes as a result of deformities.
BTX-A reduces muscle contractions and stiffness by inhibiting the release of acetylcholine, a chemical that carries messages from nerves to muscles. Reducing the concentration of this chemical messenger weakens the muscle and decreases spasticity. BTX-A has also been shown to reduce severe muscle spasms in stroke patients and to reduce forehead wrinkles.
This study demonstrates that about 50% of children benefit from isolated calf injections for 1 to 3 years. It also confirms that this treatment is safe. There were no serious side effects reported, but 1% to 11% of patients complained of increased stumbling, leg cramps and weakness. This treatment may improve gait and can provide a new option in the treatment of foot deformity in cerebral palsy.
Pediatrics, Nov, 2001; Volume 108(5)
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