Doctoral research supports holistic approach to treating inflammation in spinal cord patients

Brock University student David Allison believes in taking a holistic approach when it comes to treating different disorders.

His research looking at inflammation and its influence on mood following spinal cord injury earned him a third-place award from the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA).

Allison, who is graduating with his PhD from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, was recognized for his research during ASIA’s 2016 international scientific program, which brought together spinal cord injury researchers along with medical, rehabilitation and community-based caregivers to explore a broad range of topics.

“At the foundation of my research, is the importance of taking a holistic approach to the treatment of different disorders. While traditional pharmaceuticals typically focus on a single target, my work considers the benefits of alternative, perhaps less traditional, systems as potential targets for intervention,” says Allison.

Allison’s research examines common health complications following spinal cord injury including depression, cognitive impairment, neuropathic pain and somatic nerve deficits, and how chronic inflammation potentially contributes to them.

“Each of these disorders are highly prevalent following spinal cord injury, and are notoriously difficult to treat using traditional pharmaceuticals. The fact that each can be influenced by chronic inflammation may make the immune system a viable target for intervention,” says Allison.

Allison looked at the effectiveness of a three-month anti-inflammatory diet for the treatment of such disorders following spinal cord injury. In doing so, he was able to successfully reduce levels of chronic inflammation in this population leading to improvements in both depression and neuropathic pain. This work has helped to establish interventions such as diet as viable treatment options.

David’s work in the area of inflammation and how it affects many physiological systems after a spinal cord injury could have a profound effect on how depression and neuropathic pain are treated in this population.

Kinesiology professor David Ditor supervised Allison throughout his masters and doctoral work. He encouraged Allison to present their research at the ASIA conference.

“David should be extremely proud of himself and the work he’s done. I hope that the award he received at ASIA helps him put his research into context. It’s easy for researchers to underestimate the value of their own work and having it well received by various experts in the field can be very gratifying and encouraging,” says Ditor.

What sets Allison’s work apart is, this is the first time anyone has taken an anti-inflammatory approach to depression and neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury, explains Ditor.

“David’s work in the area of inflammation and how it affects many physiological systems after a spinal cord injury could have a profound effect on how depression and neuropathic pain are treated in this population. We observed an approximate 40-per-cent reduction in both neuropathic pain and depression by lowering inflammation, and that compares very favourably to pharmacological approaches in this population,” says Ditor.

Allison is now shifting his research focus from spinal cord injury to pediatrics in order to examine the inflammatory basis of depression in children.

“Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to irreversible changes in the brain that can contribute to symptoms of depression later in life. For this reason, it is critical to explore this relationship in a pediatric population and implement preventative strategies before such complications have time to develop,” says Allison.

Ditor intends to keep working in the area of targeting inflammation for the treatment of depression and neuropathic pain and is hopeful this could lead to new dietary guidelines for people with spinal cord injury.

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