Transplant of nasal cavity cells to spinal cord enables this paralysed man to walk once again
3 The breakthrough
The groundbreaking research was supported by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF) and the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF).
A main alteration with Mr Fidyka was that the scientists were able use the patient’s olfactory bulb, which is the lushest source of olfactory ensheathing cells. Meaning that there was no risk of rejection, and so no need for immunosuppressive drugs used in orthodox transplants.
Majority of the repair work of Mr Fidyka’s spinal cord was completed on the left side, as there was an 8mm gap. He has since recovered muscle mass and movement mostly on the left side. Scientists believe this is evidence that the recovery is due to restoration, as signals from the brain supervisory muscles in the left leg travel down the left side of the spinal cord.
MRI scans also propose that the gap in the cord has sealed up following the treatment. None of those involved in the research need to profit from it. Prof Geoff Raisman said: “It would be my proudest boast if I could say that no patient had had to pay one penny for any of the information we have found.”
NSIF said if there were any patents arising; it would acquire them so as to make the technique freely available.
4 The sense of smell and spinal repair
The intricate neural circuitry responsible for our sense of smell is the only part of the nervous system that revives throughout adult life. It is this ability that scientists have tried to exploit in encouraging repair in the spinal cord.
Each and every time we breathe molecules carrying different odors in the air come into contact with nerve cells in the nose. These convey messages to our olfactory bulbs – at the very top of the nasal cavity, sitting at the base of the brain.
The nerve cells are being repeatedly injured and must be substituted. This procedure of regeneration is made likely by olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), which provide a pathway for the fibres to grow back.