Paralysed Man Walks Again

Ten more people could benefit from a breakthrough treatment for severed spinal cords after a man who was told he would never walk again has taken his first steps.

Darek Fidyka from Poland was completely paralysed from the waist down after his spinal cord was sliced in a stabbing attack.

Despite being unable to walk since the attack in 2010, he has now taken his first steps with the use of a frame and has been told he will be able to resume an independent life and even drive a car.

He is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from complete severing of the spinal nerves.

If funding becomes available, the doctor hope to treat another ten patients from Britain and Poland over the coming years.

Nose cells

The breakthrough was made using cells from the patient’s nose. The nerve-supporting olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) created a pathway along which the broken tissue was able to grow.

There had been success in laboratory conditions in the past but this was the first time it has successfully been applied to a human.

Professor Geoffrey Raisman, whose team at University College London's Institute of Neurology discovered the technique, said that it will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury.

OECs assist the repair of damaged nerves that transmit smell messages by opening up pathways for them to the olfactory bulbs in the forebrain.

Re-located to the spinal cord, they appear to enable the ends of severed nerve fibres to grow and join together - something that was previously thought to be impossible.

Severed nerves

While some patients with partial spinal injury have made remarkable recoveries, a complete break was assumed to be unrepairable as it was though that the central nervous system cannot regenerate damaged connections.

Professor Raisman said that nerve fibres are trying to regenerate all the time but scar tissue and the gap between nerve endings in this case were thought to be unbridgeable.

In the past, surgeons had used the ‘plasticity’ technique, which involved re-wiring of remaining connections.

Professor Raisman compared plasticity with motorists finding other routes around a closed section of road. What was performed in this breakthrough surgery was the repair of the road.

Moving results

The patient is now able to move around the hips and on the left side he has experienced considerable recovery of the leg muscles.

He can get around with a walker and has been able to resume much of his original life.

The professor hoped that if they could raise funding for more patients to be treated in Poland it will then sufficiently convince other neurosurgeons.

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