After nerve cells from his nose were transplanted into his severed spinal column, Darek Fidyka who was paralyzed from the waist down actually walked. The research leading up to the discovery of this technology was published today in the Cell Transplantation journal. According to report, Fidyka is recovering at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre in Wroclaw and to capture his recovery, the journey is being filmed.
Fidyka was involved in a horrific knife attack in 2010. As a result, his spinal cord was severed, thereby causing the paralysis. He told a local news outlet that not being able to feel half of his body left him with nothing and that he often felt very lost. However, as sensation begins to come back, it is like starting life all over, as if being reborn.
As explained by Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University, olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) that form part of the sense of smell, were used in Fidyka treatment. These cells work as pathways, enabling nearby nerve fibers to regenerate.
In all, Fidyka went through two critical surgeries. In the first procedure, one of his olfactory bulbs was removed and the cells grown in culture. Two weeks later, about 100 micro-injections consisting of rougnly 500,000 cells were transplanted directly above and below the area of the spinal cord damage.
In the second procedure, four thin strips of nerve tissue were taken from Fidyka’s ankle and then placed across a 0.3-inch gap on the left side of the spinal cord. Scientists believe the olfactory cells served as a pathway that stimulated the spinal cord to regenerate, using the nerve grafts as the bridge.
While Fidyka is regaining sensation and was able to walk, this is just the start of a very long and difficult journey. In a statement released by Wiodzimierz Jamundowicz, head of neurosurgery at the Polish clinic, it is still way too early to tell if the treatment would be successful in other patients but this is a huge step in the right direction.
Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, at this point, a principle has been established whereby nerve fibers can grow back and restore function, as long as they are provided a bridge. Based on the outcome, he firmly believes that paralysis can be reversed.
Nose cells were first discovered in 1986 by Raisman and after conducting laboratory testing in 1977 that involved mice, treating spinal injuries was proven possible. Dr. Jeremy Fairbank, professor of spine surgery at the University of Oxford and not involved with the research, said while the technology has been confined to labs, it is promising to see a man with a completely severed spinal cord walking.
For over two yearsFidyka was paralyzed. Six months after the surgery, he took tentative steps using parallel bars, using leg braces, and getting support from an aide. Thanks to this breakthrough technology coupled with extensive exercise, two years after surgery Fidyka walked out of the rehabilitation center using only a frame. He also has recovered some bowel and bladder sensation, as well as sexual function.