Thursday 23 October 2014

Scientists make leap in reversing paralysis

Cell transplant procedure shows strong results in case of injured man
The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

LONDON - A Bulgarian man who was paralysed from the chest down can now walk with the aid of a frame after receiving pioneering transplant treatment using cells from his nose.

The technique, described as a breakthrough in a study in the journal Cell Transplantation, involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells from the patient's nose into his spinal cord and constructing a "nerve bridge" between two stumps of the damaged spinal column.

"We believe... this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury," said Professor Geoffrey Raisman from University College London's institute of neurology, who led the research.

Mr Darek Fidyka, 38, was paralysed after suffering stab wounds to his back in 2010. He has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs, after 19 months of treatment.

"When there's nothing, you can't feel almost half of your body. You're helpless, lost," the patient, who is now recovering at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre in Wroclaw, Poland, told BBC's Panorama programme.

"When it begins to come back, you feel you've started your life all over again, as if you are reborn," he said.

The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation, a British-based charity which partly funded the research, said that Mr Fidyka was improving more than predicted, and was now able to drive and live more independently.

Specialist olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), which form part of the sense of smell, were used in Mr Fidyka's treatment as they are pathway cells, enabling nearby nerve fibres to be continually regenerated.

Dr Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University, led a team of surgeons in removing one of the patient's olfactory bulbs before transplanting cultured cells into the spinal cord.

Scientists think the cells, implanted above and below the injury by constructing a "nerve bridge" over the spinal column, enabled damaged fibres to reconnect.

"To me, this is more impressive than a man walking on the moon. I believe this is the moment when paralysis can be reversed," said Prof Raisman.

He and his team now plan to repeat the treatment technique in between three and five patients over the next three to five years.


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