A man, previously paralysed from the chest down has been able to walk again following a new treatment involving transplantation of olfactory cells into his damaged spinal cord.
Following a knife attack four years ago, Darek Fidyka was left paralysed and left unable to walk. After undergoing a revolutionary new treatment, Fidyka has been able to walk once more using a frame, stating: “When you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s like you were born again”.
The treatment involves taking the patient’s own olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), which in situ enable continual renewal of olfactory neuronal fibres, and transplanting them into the damaged spinal cord using microinjections above and below the injury. They obtain these cells by surgically harvesting one of the olfactory bulbs from the underside of the brain-just above the nasal cavity- and culturing them ready for transplantation. In the case of Fidyka, they also used four nerve tissue grafts from his ankle and used them to span a gap in the spinal cord. It is thought that the OECs help by allowing pathways for disconnected nerve fibres to reconnect.
The leader of the research team and chair of neural regeneration at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, Professor Geoff Raisman, said this outcome is “More impressive than man walking on the moon”. And it is quite understandable why. The prospect of a paralysed person being able to walk once more is often used as an example of the impossible, and indeed it is almost synonymous with miracles themselves. It is a potential breakthrough for medical science that will likely change the lives of many as well as the direction of biomedical science itself.
Following the surgery, Fidyka, has been undergoing extensive physiotherapy and has also gradually regained other functions in his lower body such as some bladder and bowel sensation. However, whilst the progress with this individual has been outstanding; researchers are hesitant to invoke too much expectation pending further, more extensive clinical trials with other patients.