A patient who has been paralyzed from the waist down for over four years is recovering sensation in his legs. A group of doctors from Clinical University Hospital in Wroclaw, Poland, in collaboration with specialists from London and two British foundations, accomplished a huge breakthrough in medicine—They have successfully performed a broken spinal cord operation, which (until now) was not possible.
Mr. Fidyka, 40-years old fireman, was stabbed few times in 2010. As a result of this brutal attack, the man's spinal cord was completely broken, and he became paralyzed from the waist down. He didn't lose hope though, and in 2011 the surgery was performed. After weeks of intensive training the first results had become visible. And today, he can drive a car and even take a few steps with the use of special equipment. It's the very first case in the history of medicine in which a person with a completely broken spinal cord is recovering sensation in their legs and regaining muscles control.
How is this possible?
The whole idea was taken from Geoffrey Raisman, a scientists of the British Institute of Neurology, University College London. In the early 1980’s he was conducting research on glial cells, which fill empty space between neurons. They also feed and protect nervous cells in the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Professor Raisman discovered that the olfactory ensheathing glial cells (OECs) have huge regenerating properties. Even after upper respiratory tract burn or inhaling toxic substances, we don’t have to worry that we’ll lose our sense of smell for life. After few days or weeks we will still be able to smell a flower, all thanks to these handy cells.
The innovative treatment consists of implanting OECs in place of the broken spinal cord. At first the scientists collected olfactory bulb, a tissue located in the brain and a source of OECs. Then they multiplied the cells in laboratory conditions for few weeks. After that, they implanted them, along with a fragment of a nerve from patient's leg, into the broken spinal cord. The whole surgery took 11 hours, during which about 20-40 punctures was made along with 120 microinjections.
“It’s not like the face transplantation, in which you can see the effects after few days. In case of our patients the improvement can be seen after a long period of time. Sometimes, after a whole year, only small changes can be seen.” – said Paweł Tabakow, doctor from Neurosurgery Clinic of Wroclaw Medical Univeristy.
Polish and British surgeons will be trying to get another 10 million pounds to perform similar surgeries in the future to confirm if the innovative method was the main cause of convalescence. If these results are also positive it would bring hope to millions of paralyzed people from all around the world.
This article was written by FQTQ Contributor Mateusz Radziwonowicz