A fireman paralysed from the waist down after his spinal cord was completely severed has regained the ability to walk thanks to British scientists.
Darek Fidyka, 40, is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from such chronic injuries, in an achievement hailed as more impressive than putting a man on the Moon.
Mr Fidyka’s spinal cord was sliced in half during a stabbing four years ago, leaving him paralysed below the waist.
Darek Fidyka has been able to walk again after
receiving pioneering treatment which has repaired his severed spine. He is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from such chronic injuries
Amazingly, he has now been able to resume an independent life – walking with a frame and even driving a car – thanks to a revolutionary technique pioneered at University College London.
Mr Fidyka, from Bulgaria, suffered damage similar to that of actor Christopher Reeve, whose spine was severed from his skull after he fell off a horse in 1995.
While some victims of partial
spinal injury have recovered, a complete break was generally assumed to be irreparable.
However, scientists in Poland used cells from Mr Fidyka’s nose to re-grow nerve cells which were then inserted into his spine, fixing the broken link.
This graphic shows the steps making up the procedure, which allowed Mr Fidyka to walk again. Scientists transplanted olffactory ensheathing cells into the damaged part of the spinal chord, to grown new nerve cells
It is the first time the procedure has been shown to work on a human. Professor Geoffrey Raisman, whose team at UCL first discovered the technique, said: ‘We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by
spinal cord injury.’
He described Mr Fidyka’s recovery as ‘more impressive than man walking on the Moon’.
The research, funded by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation and UK Stem Cell Foundation, will be featured in a Panorama programme on BBC 1 tonight.
The 40-year-old fireman from Bulgaria was paralysed from the waist down after being stabbed four years ago leaving him paralysed below the waist
THE PROCEDURE 'MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN PUTTING A MAN ON THE MOON'
The procedure involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells – or OECs – from the nose to the spinal cord where they allowed nerve cells to regrow and bridge the 'gap' in the severed spinal cord
Professor Geoffrey Raisman at University College London's Institute of Neurology performed the pioneering procedure. He said: ‘We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury’
Professor Raisman, whose work is also published in the journal Cell Transplantation today, said: ‘[Mr Fidyka] can get around with a walker and he’s been able to resume much of his original life, including driving a car.
'He’s not dancing, but he’s absolutely delighted.’
He continued: ‘The number of patients who are completely paralysed is enormous.
'There are millions of them in the world. If we can convince the global neurosurgeon community that this works then it will develop very rapidly indeed.’
Dr Pawel Tabakow, of the Wroclaw Medical University in Poland, said: ‘We estimated that without this treatment, our patient’s recovery chances were less than 1 per cent.
'However, we observed a gradual recovery of both sensory and motor function that began four months after the surgery.’
The procedure involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells – or OECs – from the nose to the spinal cord.
OECs assist the repair of damaged nerves in the nose that transmit smell messages to the brain.
Two weeks later, the cells were transplanted into the spinal cord, using 100 micro injections across the site of the injury.
A small piece of nerve tissue, which was taken from the ankle, was grafted onto the spinal cord to act as a scaffold for the spinal neurons to extend, as guided by the OECs.
This enabled the ends of severed nerve fibres to grow and join together across the 'gap' – something that was previously thought to be impossible.
Three months after the operation, Mr Fidyka began to gain muscle in his left leg and regain sensation in parts of his lower body. He felt hot and cold as well as pins and needles in the limb.
A year after surgery - and large amounts of physiotherapy at the rehabilitation centre in Wroclaw - he could walk with the aid of parallel bars and using a walker with short callipers supporting his ankles.
Professor Raisman said: ‘The observed wisdom is that the central nervous system cannot regenerate damaged connections. I’ve never believed that.’
He stressed that what had been achieved was a leap forward beyond ‘plasticity’ – the re-wiring of the remaining connections.
He compared that method to motorists finding other routes around a closed section of motorway, adding: ‘What we’re doing is repairing the motorway.’
Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme, Professor Raisman said: 'This [procedure] opens the door, which I had always been knocking at - to see that our nervous system has the ability to repair itself.
‘This is the beginning of a repair for spinal injuries and other types of injuries - including stroke.
‘The idea that the nervous system can repair itself in rats and in one man - there’s no reason to restrict this to just the spinal cord. It opens the door to a future which is terrifyingly large.
‘We’ve climbed two mountains and we are now at the foot of the (next) mountain. We have knowledge which could be of great value, we can’t stop now.
The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation was founded by Briton David Nicholls after his son Daniel was paralysed in a swimming accident at the age of 18.
He said: ‘I promised Dan that I would not give up until a cure had been found. Professor Raisman and Dr Tabakow’s breakthrough marks the first step.’
Via - Dailymail.