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Cell Transplant Enables Paralyzed Man to Walk Again

Update Date: Oct 21, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

A paralyzed man was able to walk again after undergoing cell transplant therapy, researchers detailed in a new study.

"We believe... 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," said lead researchers, Geoffrey Raisman, a professor at University College London's (UCL) institute of neurology, reported by FOX News.

According to the case study, the patient, 38-year-old Darek Fidyka from Bulgaria became paralyzed from the chest down after he was attacked by a knife in 2010. Fidyka underwent cell transplant treatment, which involved removing his olfactory bulbs, which are located in the nose and are responsible for giving people their sense of smell. From the bulbs, the researchers extracted olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) and olfactory nerve fibroblasts (ONFs), which were then implanted into his spinal column.

"The OECs and the ONFs appeared to work together, but the mechanism between their interaction is still unclear," Raisman stated.

These cells successfully created a "nerve bridge" between the two damaged areas in the spinal cord. After 19 months of treatment, Fidyka has regained some voluntary movements as well as sensation in his legs.

"He can get around with a walker and he's been able to resume much of his original life, including driving a car. He's not dancing, but he's absolutely delighted," said Raisman according to The Guardian.

"While this study is only in one patient, it provides hope of a possible treatment for restoration of some function in individuals with complete spinal cord injury," commented John Sladek, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the United States. Sladek was not involved with the work.

The researchers are aiming to repeat this method in three to five patients over the next few years. The case study was published in the journal, Cell Transplantation and it was funded by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF) and the UK Stem Cell Foundation.

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