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Paralysed man walks again after cell transplant

Last week saw a paralysed man been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London. Details of the research are published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

In a 2012 study, Cambridge Neuroscientist Professor Robin Franklin and colleagues published the first double-blinded randomised controlled trial to test the effectiveness of transplants to improve function in ‘real-life’ spinal cord injury in dogs. The trial was performed on animals that had spontaneous and accidental injury rather than in the controlled environment of a laboratory, and some time after the injury occurred.  This resembled the way in which the procedure might be used in human patients. To read more on this study, please click here.

Similar to the human study, in the Cambridge study, one group of dogs had olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of their own nose injected into the injury site. The other group of dogs was injected with just the liquid in which the cells were transplanted. Neither the researchers nor the owners (nor the dogs!) knew which injection they were receiving.

The group of dogs that had received the OEC injection showed considerable improvement that was not seen in the other group. These animals moved previously paralysed hind limbs and co-ordinated the movement with their front legs.  This means that in these dogs neuronal messages were being conducted across the previously damaged part of the spinal cord.  However, the researchers established that the new nerve connections accounting for this recovery were occurring over short distances within the spinal cord and not over the longer distances required to connect the brain with the spinal cord. Read more and watch videos here.

Professor Bill Harris, co-chair of Cambridge Neuroscience commented, "The story based on a man whose spinal cord was completely severed but had regained the ability to walk was wonderful news. It shows that there is significant potential for bringing the therapy that Professor Robin Franklin here in Cambridge so successfully devised for the treatment of spinal cord injuries in dogs, i.e. the use of the patient's own olfactory ensheathing cells to help axons across injury sites in the spinal cord, into humans."

Posted on 27/10/2014

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