Marc J. Ruitenberg, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy to improve recovery from spinal cord injury

Funded in: 2014, 2015, 2016

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Problem: Dysregulated inflammation after SCI causes significant additional damage that hinders recovery.

Target: Investigating intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy for attenuating the harmful aspects of inflammation after SCI.

Goal: Translation of this therapy (already in clinical use for other diseases) to SCI patients.


Injury to the spinal cord as a result of trauma leads to robust activation of the immune system and long-lasting inflammation. Although restrained immune activation is a necessary part of all wound healing, deregulated inflammation in the context of brain or spinal cord injuries is harmful and causes significant additional damage that hinders recovery if left unchecked. With no real treatment options currently available to clinicians, there is an urgent need for effective immune-modulatory therapies that can be safely used to dampen inflammation after spinal cord injury and maximise prospects for recovery.

This project will explore whether intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy can be used to successfully attenuate the harmful aspects of inflammation after spinal cord injury. IVIG is a human blood product that is already in clinical use, for example in the treatment of autoimmune disorders because of its potent anti-inflammatory effects. Using a mouse model of contusive spinal cord injury, the team will determine

  • The optimal dose at which IVIG treatment maximally improves recovery
  • The time window for IVIG treatment: How long can the treatment be delayed after SCI before losing its therapeutic efficacy?

Assessment: The benefits of IVIG treatment on recovery from SCI will be measured in a variety of ways, including the quantitative measurement of neurological recovery, tissue pathology and various biomarkers of inflammation.

Importantly, the team will also employ magnetic resonance imaging techniques to quantify the treatment effect in a non-invasive and more clinically relevant way. The pre-clinical studies will determine how to best use IVIG for the treatment of acute SCI and also shed some light on the mechanisms behind its action.

A successful outcome of the experiments will pave the way for clinical trials on the merits of IVIG therapy in acute SCI, with the real prospect of improving patient recovery.