Professor Geoff Raisman and his team recently pioneered a revolutionary cure for paralysis. Their patient was Darek Fidyka, paralysed from the chest down following a knife attack where he was stabbed 18 times. Following treatment, Darek is now able to walk with the assistance of a frame. The pioneering cell transplantation treatment has been developed over the past 18 years by Professor Raisman and his team at UCL, and applied by surgeons at Wroclaw University Hospital, Poland.
Using specialist cells from the nose called OECs (olfactory ensheathing cells), the treatment involves implanting these cells in the spinal cord. The nerve cells that continuously grow back when damaged in order to keep giving our sense of smell were used to grow back the damaged nerve endings in Darek’s spinal chord – a procedure previously thought impossible.
Darek Fidyka, paralysed after suffering stab wounds to the back in 2010, had an 8mm gap in his spinal cord. He described the ability to walk again using a frame as “an incredible feeling,” and added: “when you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s as if you were born again.”
Dr Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital who led the Polish research team said: “It’s amazing to see how regeneration of the spinal cord, something that was thought impossible for many years, is becoming a reality.”
Professor Raisman first discovered OECs in 1985 and successfully showed that they could be used to treat spinal injuries in rats in 1997. He joined UCL in 2004 and has spent the past decade developing OEC spinal repair techniques for patients. Now, after decades of hard work, his research has helped a paralysed man to walk again. This is his story.