If you're seeing plenty of bearded men around the Thanksgiving table this year, it could very well be in honor of Movember, a month when many men opt not to shave in order to raise awareness about men's health. It's an important cause, as the Movember Foundation reminds us with startling data about a variety of health concerns that affect men—12.1% of men 18 years and over are in fair or poor health, with issues such as prostate cancer (1 in 7 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime), testicular cancer (the most common cancer in young men aged 15 - 35 years) and mental health disorders (morethan four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States) among the biggest concerns.
Another key issue for men is paralysis. Roughly three out of five spinal cord-injured individuals are men, and the men who do suffer spinal cord injuries experience other secondary conditions, like infertility, which threaten their overall sense of wellbeing.
As it turns out, spinal trauma causes severe damage, not only to spinal tissues, but to organ systems throughout the rest of the body. And males can exhibit a profound loss of fertility following spinal trauma. Raymond Grill, Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi’s Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences, recently found that spinal cord injury causes a failure of barrier properties in the testes. Those barriers are normally there to protect sperm and the cells that produce sperm from the immune system throughout one’s lifetime. But with loss of this barrier function comes intense inflammatory conditions that continue to be observed for months following injury. It is this loss of barrier function and ensuing inflammatory response that he believes creates an environment hostile to normal sperm production—thus resulting in infertility.
Currently, no treatment exists to restore sperm production and viability for those living with a spinal cord injury. However, Grill and his colleagues recently found that a novel anti-inflammatory drug called licofelone suppressed inflammation and stress within the traumatized rat spinal cord early after injury. Grill was recently awarded Conquer Paralysis Now’s Out-of-the-Box grant, which he’ll use to help fund his study to determine whether licofelone, when given to male rats with a chronic spinal cord injury, can suppress inflammation and stress within the testes and create an environment that supports the healing of the testes and the restoration of fertility.
If successful, this breakthrough would represent a novel method for restoring male reproductive potential to those living with a chronic spinal cord injury. Grill and colleagues are further exploring the potential effectiveness of licofelone as a treatment for spinal cord injury-dependent pain as well as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
This month and beyond, when we think of men’s health, let’s also remember the millions who suffer from paralysis, and researcherslike Raymond Grill, who are working to make an impact.