Paralysed man walks again

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This news spread like a wildfire around the globe last week. A paralysed man has been able to walk again after an experimental therapy, which was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in the United Kingdom. Wings for Life did not fund this project. Though, we’ve been asked many times about our opinion on this project and what the scientists did exactly.  

The research team around Geoffrey Raisman and Pawel Tabakow published details of their work in the journal Cell Transplantation (Title: “Functional regeneration of supraspinal connections in a patient with transected spinal cord following transplantation of bulbar olfactory ensheathing cells with peripheral nerve bridging”). According to this article, they used a combinatorial approach to regain voluntary movements of the lower limbs in a patient with a chronic spinal cord injury.

At first, the surgeons resected the glial scar within the spinal cord. Then, they pasted pieces of the patient’s own nerve from the calf with a fibrin glue into the cavity. In a final step, they interjected a mixture of cells derived from the olfactory bulb into the spinal cord.

To obtain these so called olfactory ensheathing cells and olfactory nerve fibroblasts, the man earlier underwent a brain surgery (craniotomy) where one of his olfactory bulbs was taken out. Following this surgery, he initially lost his sense of smell on one side, but unexpectedly regained some smell perception on this side.

Before and after the transplantation, the patient underwent an intensive rehabilitation training consisting of 5 hours per day for 5 days a week.

5 months after the operation, sensations started to recover. At first, his skin sensation returned, later on he also noticed proprioception of the muscles, i.e. he knew to which direction his muscles were stretched during training. In addition, the man could feel the pain from a pressure injury (ulcus) on his hip. Continuing with his rehabilitation training, his muscle thickness increased and after 10 months he was able to voluntary adduct both legs, finally, he was able to take assisted steps.  

Wings for Life is very pleased to hear about the promising research project and the improvement of health for the patient. So far, the team treated one patient using this combinatorial approach. As Professor Raisman and Doctor Tabakow point out themselves, the successful experimental therapy now needs to be proven and confirmed in a clinical trial with a larger number of patients.