Pioneering Surgery Helps Paralysed Man Walk Again

Revolutionary Surgery Achieves World First

21.10.2014

A Polish man who was paralysed in 2010 has walked again - thanks to pioneering new cell treatment.

Darek Fidyka was attacked with a knife in 2010 and his spinal cord was severed in the stabbing.

A new technique using the only nerve cells in the body that can regenerate themselves to rebuild the nerve cell connections has enabled him to regain feeling and the 40-year-old Mr Fidyka can now walk, albeit only with the help of a frame at present.

The olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are actually located in the nose and help maintain the sense of smell by replenishing cells that are damaged as they send signals about odours to the brain.

Details of the operation and the research behind it have been published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

Speaking to the BBC's Panorama programme, a delighted Mr Fidyka said: "When you can't feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it's like you were born again."

While the actual surgery happened in Poland, the research that devised the technique was carried out in Britain. The UK team was led by Professor Geoff Raisman, the chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology.

He said the achievement of helping Mr Fidyka walk again was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".

The operation saw the OECs injected into strips of nerve grafted from Mr Fidyka's ankles and attached to the spinal cord, which had been severed bar one small strip of remaining nerve.

This surgical achievement will bring hope to millions of paraplegics who have ended up in wheelchairs after serious accidents or attacks. Dr Pawel Tabakow, the lead surgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital, where the operation took place, said his team was willing to carry out similar procedures on people from all over the world.

Among those with fresh hope is the man who set up the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF), David Nicholls, whose son Daniel was paralysed in a swimming accident in 2003. He said he had always promised his son they would find a cure.

The NSIF was one of the bodies that supported the King's College research.

Expert Opinion
News of this pioneering scientific breakthrough is absolutely fantastic and brings hope that one day doctors will be able to prevent people from being paralysed as a result of spinal cord injuries.

"While it is of course very early days, it will be interesting to see how work in this area develops and whether – ultimately – such treatment can eventually become widely available.

"Spinal injuries can completely change a person’s life in terms of independence, work and so many other areas. However, this innovation could be an important and groundbreaking step towards reversing the effects of paralysis."
Neil Whiteley, Partner