A man who was paralysed from the waist down after his spinal cord was slashed in a brutal knife attack, has taken his first steps again. The 38 year old is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from having their spinal cord completely severed.
Darek Fidyka can now walk, when aided by a frame, and has been able to resume a life independent from aid. He has even begun relearning to drive a car, since sensation has returned to his lower limbs he is now legally able to do so.
The surgeons who operated on Fidyka removed nerve supporting cells from his nose and implanted them into his spinal column. This allowed a bridge to form which could connect the two pieces of broken tissue and helped to stimulate growth.
This method of treatment has worked theoretically before and has been successful in a lab setting but this is “by far” the most successful treatment on a human subject. Professor Geoffrey Raisman who, along with his team, discovered this method at University College London’s Institute of Neurology has claimed this breakthrough was “more impressive than man walking on the Moon”.
Professor Raisman 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,” This new treatment could in fact be ground-breaking and is the subject of a BBC Panorama programme.
A Polish team led by one of the world’s foremost spinal repair experts, Dr Pawel Tabakow, from Wroclaw Medical University, performed the surgery. The surgery involves removing cells olfactory ensheathing cells and replacing them in the spine of the patient. Once placed into the spinal cord, they appear to enable the ends of severed nerve fibres to grow and join together; a process once believed to be impossible.
Whilst some patients with spinal injuries will recover some motion from their lower body a full recovery has always been believed to be impossible. Professor Raisman said; “The observed wisdom is that the central nervous system cannot regenerate damaged connections. I’ve never believed that. Nerve fibres are trying to regenerate all the time. But there are two problems; crash barriers, which are scars, and a great big hole in the road. In order for the nerve fibres to express that ability they’ve always had to repair themselves, first the scar has to be opened up, and then you have to provide a channel that will lead them where they need to go.”
The professor went on to say “If we can raise the funding we hope to see at least three more patients treated in Poland over the next three to five years. The hope is that this will sufficiently convince other neurosurgeons.”
This kind of breakthrough was once believed to be a once in a generation kind of shift but the medical advancements are coming thick and fast. This procedure may well represent a quantum leap in terms of care for the paralysed. With results showing that this surgery can potentially cure paralysis I see no reason why funding will not make its way to the professor and these spectacular advancements can continue.