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Spinal cord injury breakthrough: Cell transplant helps paralyzed man walk

November 20, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

A man who was paralyzed in a knife attack can now walk with the aid of a frame after receiving transplant treatment using cells from his nose

Darek Fidyka walks after breakthrough spinal cord cell transplant treatment.
Darek Fidyka walks after breakthrough spinal cord cell transplant treatment.

As an injury  lawyer who devotes my practice to helping people seriously hurt in auto accidents, I have the honor of helping many people who have spinal cord injuries.

Spinal cord injuries are often catastrophic, and the people I help are some of the most strong and courageous people I know. I often write about new treatments for spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury, with hopes that Michigan No Fault will cover more treatment (not less, as our courts have done with “experimental” therapies and in cases like Admire v. Auto-Owners Insurance).

This latest breakthrough treatment gives great hope for many  people who are currently disabled from spinal cord injuries.

According to a recent story in Reuters, a Bulgarian man who was paralyzed from the chest down in a knife attack can now walk with the aid of a frame after receiving pioneering transplant treatment using cells from his nose.

The 38-year-old patient, Darek Fidyka, is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from complete severing of the spinal nerves, according to published reports. Fidyka was paralyzed after suffering stab wounds to his back in 2010. Following 19 months of treatment, he has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs.

Furthermore, he has resumed an independent life – and can even drive now.

The technique involved transplanting what are known as olfactory ensheathing cells (from his nose) into the his spinal cord and constructing a “nerve bridge” between two stumps of the damaged spinal column, according to a study in journal Cell Transplantation.

Olfactory ensheathing cells help the repair of damaged nerves that transmit smell messages by opening up pathways to the olfactory bulbs in the brain. And when relocated to the spinal cord, they appear to enable the ends of severed nerve fibers to grow and join together – something that was previously thought to be impossible.

Geoffrey Raisman, a professor at University College London’s (UCL) institute of neurology, who led the research said the procedure is a “breakthrough,” and as it’s further developed, “will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury.”

A British charity called The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation helped fund the the research.

“While this study is only in one patient, it provides hope of a possible treatment for restoration of some function in individuals with complete spinal cord injury,” said John Sladek, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the United States.

Raisman and his team now plan to repeat the treatment technique in between three and five patients over the next three to five years.


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