In what is probably the most ground breaking medical development in the past decade, it has been reported that a paralysed man, Mr Darek Fidyka, who’s spinal cord had been completely severed 4 years ago, has regained enough function to enable him to walk again.

The 40 year old male from Poland had breakthrough surgery, during where transplanted cells from his nose were implanted into his spinal cord. The implanted cells then provided a bridge over the affected area of his spinal cord, allowing the spinal cord nerve cells to regrow across the scar tissue.

Usually after a spinal cord injury, scar tissue forms over the spinal cord that has been severed. This scar tissue then keeps the affected part from reconnecting and effectively means that person is paralysed for life. For decades scientists have been looking at ways to encourage regrowth in this area and Professor Raisman, a professor of Neurology at UCL in London, suggested that this might be possible if there was a so called “bridge” for the cells to grow across. He and his team spent many years searching for the right materials to use and eventually decided on olfactory cells (responsible for smell) as they constantly regenerate.

They did research, initially on rats and these studies eventually caught the eye of Pawel Tabakow in Poland, who is an assistant professor in Neurosurgey at Wroclaw Medical University.

In 2013 the two teams working together, transplanted the nasal OEC’s into the spinal cords of 3 paraplegic patients and reported that they had seen some neurological improvements in all 3 patients. One of these patients was Mr Fidyka. Since the procedure he has been having 5 hours a day of intensive rehabilitation, so it has been a long a painful process. Also Mr Fidyaka was a very determined patient.

Nevertheless, this procedure, if it can be replicated in others, will result in a historic change in the outlook for people paralysed through spinal cord injury. Till now the outlook for them regaining any movement has been bleak.

The team is currently raising funds to enable the two teams to continue in their collaboration and verify the benefits in larger studies.