Spinal paralysis reversed: 5 key points on breakthrough technique

Written by Anuja Vaidya | October 22, 2014 | Print  |

A man paralyzed from the chest down has regained sensation and muscle control in his legs after regenerative cells were implanted in his back to repair the spinal cord, according to a report by The Independent.

Here are five things to know about the revolutionary breakthrough, according to the report:


1. An Anglo-Polish team of physicians in Britain pioneered the new technique that has reversed, for the first time, spinal paralysis.


2. The medical team implanted harvested cells — known as olfactory ensheathing cells, which repair damage to nasal nerves — into an 8mm gap in the spinal cord of Darek Fidyka, a Bulgarian who was confined to a wheelchair after being stabbed in the back in 2010.


3. Physicians reported that the implants of the cells on the two "stumps" of the spinal cord slowly restored the nerve fiber connections between both sides, returning feeling and then movement to Mr. Fidyka's legs.


4. Around 10 months after the surgery in 2012, Mr. Fidyka was able to walk with the aid of braces and a walking frame. He is now able to drive and live more independently. He had been told that the chance of recovering sensation or movement below his chest was negligible.


5. The new technique has thus far only been applied to Mr. Fidyka. The medical team and other experts emphasize further testing. The medical team is looking to raise 10 million pounds to fund surgery for a larger group Poland to refine the technique over the next five years.


"I believe this is the first time that a patient has been able to regenerate severed long spinal nerve fibres across an injury and resume movement and feeling," said Professor Geoffrey Raisman, the head of University College London's Institute of Neurology, who conducted the research into OECs, to The Independent. "I believe we have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury which will get patients out of wheelchairs. Our goal is to develop this first procedure to a point where it can be rolled out as a worldwide general approach."


Around 200,000 people are currently living with spinal cord injury in the United States, and 15 to 40 new cases per million people are estimated to occur annually, according to a CDC Fact Sheet. However, science and clinical research is certainly making headway in the treatment of these types of injuries. In April, a study was published that showed that spinal cord stimulation allows paralyzed SCI patients to wiggle their toes, flex their legs and even stand independently for moments at a time.

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