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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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