JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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A good news moment – paralyzed man walks again with stem cell transplant

In case you’ve missed this — stem cells have been used to partially restore movement in a 38 year old man who had his spinal cord completely severed by a knife attack in 2010. The cells came  from his nose, and are technically olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC). They are unique cells — the only nerve fibres we know of that grow and make connections with the central nervous system. It’s no magic instant bullet, but a first step. It’s taken 19 months of intensive rehab after the transplant, but he is now able to drive. It’s not known if this procedure can help with paralysis caused by other, more messy causes of spinal breaks. The stab wound was a very clean cut.

It is almost 30 years since Prof. Geoffrey Raisman first identified the potential of OEC’s to repair nerve damage in mice. In November 2012 researchers in Edinburgh were able to restore a dogs ability to move hind legs.

Speaking earlier today Geoffrey Raisman described the results as “more impressive than man walking on the moon”. — speakingofresearch

There are at least three different methods of possibly curing paralysis which have all made announcements this year. In May a different group announced that electrical stimulation helped four men to voluntarily move limbs. Another group, also in May, announced that a different kind of electrical stimulation helped macque monkeys.

We can become experts in windmills, or we can help quadraplegics walk. Every dollar wasted on carbon sequestration is an opportunity missed, a cure delayed.

Some details from Medical News Today

In 2013, they reported how they safely transplanted nasal OECs into the spinal cords of three paraplegic patients who showed “neurological improvement.”

Mr. Fidyka was a recipient of this treatment. In the first of two operations, the surgeons removed one of his olfactory bulbs from high up in his nose and grew the OECs in culture.

Two weeks later, using about 100 micro-injections on either side of the site, they transplanted the cultured OECs into his severed spinal cord, using a strip of nerves from his ankle to bridge the gap.

The idea was to use the OECs to spur the spinal nerve fibers to regrow across the gap, using the ankle nerve grafts as a bridge.

Mr. Fidyka has continued with 5 hours a day of intensive rehabilitation under the careful management of Prof. Tabakow and his team, who have refined and optimized the treatment after visiting many spinal injury projects around the world.

Nerve cells are special:

As with many breakthroughs this one did not happen overnight, indeed it is the result of decades of research. The story really begins in 1985 when Professor Geoffrey Raisman at University College London (for a good overview of his work see the UCL spinal Repair Group homepage) was studying the unique ability of nerve fibres in the olfactory system to grow and make the connections with central nervous system – an ability that other adult nerve cells lack and which is probably retained in the olfactory system due to the importance of preserving the ability to smell despite exposure of nerve cells in the nasal passages to toxins in the environment (a good sense of smell being crucial to survival for many mammalian species). He found that in a part of the brain termed the olfactory bulb of mice and rats a specific type of glial cell, cells that act to support and regulate the activity of the nerve cells along which nerve impulses travel , were responsible for creating the pathway along which the olfactory nerve fibres could regenerate (1).

h/t to Robert

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20 comments to A good news moment – paralyzed man walks again with stem cell transplant

  • #
    Yonniestone

    Absolutely amazing, let’s see restore a persons ability to walk giving a life changing gift or produce birdlife killing windmills that create a financial burden that contribute zero benefits to the environment, hmmm….this is a tough one. /sarc.

    On the downside wheelchair manufactures may be getting nervous.

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  • #
    Safetyguy66

    Looks like a small step for one man and potentially a giant leap for mankind. But in all seriousness, if it can be replicated its truly amazing and even better that it can be done using cells from the host which potentially means everyone has a donor.

    80

  • #
    mmxx

    Fascinating report!

    I will be interested to hear of follow-up developments and empirical evidence of treatment effects.

    Jo, this positive report helps break the monotony of the “we are all doomed by anthropogenic global warming” memes of climate change activists. Natural climate variation and evolution of human knowledge continue to occur.

    Without the beneficial advancements of the human condition that have been provided through industrial, fossil fuel related technologies, this possible new breakthrough in spinal injury treatment would remain an impossible dream.

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  • #

    In one of my rare moments of listening to the BBC – someone said “it’s more important than walking on the moon”. That is certainly true.

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  • #
    Rereke Whakaaro

    It makes you wonder if the same treatment could be made to work for people with neck injuries, who are left tetraplegic, need a full-time carer.

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    • #
      Yonniestone

      It does open up fantastic outcomes for spinal injuries and more, Christopher Reeve was a vigorous campaigner for stem cell research right up to his passing in 2004, it’s a shame he didn’t get to see this but he always knew a breakthrough would happen, RIP Superman.

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    • #

      Rereke, theoretically I can’t think of any biological reason why it wouldn’t work for a similar injury in the neck. And for other types of injuries, like crush-damage rather than clean cut, I hope we can combine this with other methods – like electrical stimulation to produce similar gains. It may be harder because of the distance and the displacement of the correct neurons – but then, perhaps it isn’t because the width of a knife is impossibly large on a cellular level and 2mm might as well be 2cm. I don’t know. Perhaps all the nerves were not aligned even in this test.

      If nerves are randomly reconnected from brain to body parts, it would be like learning to walk as a baby does, only harder. How frustrating. All the circuits may be mismatched.

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      • #
        Yonniestone

        Jo if the nerves are randomly connected again can the brain be reprogrammed successfully?, you can reprogram a car’s ECU/ECM (computer module) after changes to the engine are done (camshaft, intake etc..) I’m wondering what part of the human brain has the most influence in relearning motor skills, the mechanical or emotional or both?

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        • #

          Yonnie, we used to think older brains couldn’t learn new tricks, but more recent research suggests that rewiring is possible and still occurs

          http://www.mind-and-brain.de/research/topic-4-brain-plasticity-and-lifespan-ontogeny/

          Plasticity has traditionally been considered primarily as a feature of young, maturing, as opposed to adult and aging, organisms. However, this widely held view has now been seriously challenged. Findings from cognitive training studies in lifespan psychology over the last 20 years have clearly demonstrated that behavioral and cognitive plasticity is not a privilege that is specific only to early periods of life. Old people still possess substantial reserved plasticity, albeit being more limited in extent.

          In neuroscience, the old dogma of no addition of new neurons in adult brain has recently been renounced by the discovery of adult neurogenesis from animal studies. Furthermore, findings of aging-related changes in cortical functional circuitries subserving memory and cognitive control mechanisms (as well as training- and expertise-related structural and functional cortical changes in adults and older people also indicate substantial brain plasticity during the adult lifespan.

          Brain Plasticity in Older Adults
          Learning new tricks in older age.
          Published on April 27, 2013 by Mario D. Garrett, PhD in iAge
          http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/iage/201304/brain-plasticity-in-older-adults

          vidence comes from a number of different observations. In a study of London taxi drivers who are learning some 25,000 streets, researchers found that compared with bus drivers (who had a fixed route), taxi drivers’ brains changed, with more brain cells growing in one part of their brain that is related to knowledge of maps. This study shows that the brain is an active neurological mechanism and not just a warehouse for cells. The brain is more than a reserve gas tank, switching from tank A to tank B, but has ‘plasticity’, a flexibility that can change the capacity and function of specific areas

          20

      • #
        RogueElement451

        Somebody somewhere said that this bears comparison with the first heart transplant carried out so long ago by Dr Christian Barnard.
        I do hope so , this will give hope to millions and in due course , give back a reasonable life to millions also.
        Fingers crossed!!

        10

  • #
    Lawrie Ayres

    The wonderful outcome from real research. Lets use the billions wasted on [snip] like Flannery, Karoly, Steffen and the tribes in UEA and Penn State for further medical research. Maybe we could stop wasting money on windmills and spend it on research into nuclear energy. Imagine what could be done with the millions given to the non scientific CSIRO. It would be very easy: have politicians and the press tell the truth about the climate for a change. I know; extremely naive.

    []ED

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  • #
    handjive

    A great moment in science.

    Unlike this.

    Over @theirabc, in the column, “on the wider web”, (right side column) the progressive climate idiots have what they consider is a funny, scientific takedown:

    Jon Stewart on sea levels
    http://www.upworthy.com/these-congressmen-think-theyre-smarter-than-scientists-jon-stewart-disproves-that-real-quick?c=ufb1
    . . .
    Gees, Mr Stewart, at what temperature does ice melt, and, when do you see it melting?

    Before 2030 when the world ends because of global warming, as fellow kool-aide drinker, Sir Bob Geldof claims?

    Or, is climate change here now, as Obama says, in which case all that ice your shoving in your glass should be here, now.
    But it isn’t.

    Comprehende compadre?

    It can’t be both.

    Worst Apocalypse. Ever.

    30

  • #
    handjive

    *Worst Apocalypse. Ever.

    Grammar is not the best, either.

    your- you’re – you are

    40

  • #
    Tim

    The ‘allocation of resources’ argument can go on forever. But so long as 1% of the population controls the world’s wealth, there’s probably not a lot we plebs can do.

    The beneficiaries of this kind of breakthrough research would be the elite themselves. It would be financially out of the question for us who are destined to be culled, rather than saved.

    51

  • #

    Medical breakthroughs are enjoyed by the rich for a while, but the price comes down and they do trickle down. Ultrasound was unknown 50 years ago – even the elite wouldn’t have had one, but I’m guessing 80% of pregnancies in the West would be scanned now?

    Is there any evidence that antibiotics and vaccines were withheld from the poor for long?

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  • #

    It sure does, but to answer my question about antibiotics in Africa, there are quite a lot of studies about the risk of developing antibiotic resistance in sub saharan Africa eg http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21078009.

    Of course wealth buys better health care. But it’s not correct to say that discoveries are kept to the elite and withheld from everyone else.

    And Tim also says: “so long as 1% of the population controls the world’s wealth, there’s probably not a lot we plebs can do. “
    To which i should have added — and that’s exactly what those who have power want you to think.

    One person can make a difference.

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  • #
    Ross

    My wife has just had knee replacement surgery but there is now available stem cell techniques which work to replace cartilage in the knee that is not completely gone , as was the case with my wife. It is available in the USA and is relatively inexpensive ( compared to knee replacement costs). The stem cells are injected into the knee and as I understand it the rebuild is quite quick.
    This is great, as many people with knee issues are asked to wait many years in discomfort until they are older so the replacement does not have to be repeated later in life
    (although the technology is improving rapidly).So stem cell therapy can be used and effective at a younger age.
    I think stem cell work , particularly for joints, will be more important in coming years especially for professional sports people involved in contact sports or sports like skiing which can play havoc on joints.

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  • #
    stan stendera

    This your most uplifting post ever, Jo. As an American I wonder if Charles Krauthammer (sp?) could be helped. How wonderful it would be to see him walk onto the Fox News set.

    10