Medical Miracle: Paralysed Man Walks Again
by Elizabeth Menon

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Medical Miracle: Paralysed Man Walks Again

"More impressive than Man walking on the Moon", says, Professor Geoffrey Raisman from the University College of London! And I feel proud to be a doctor today, prouder than every other second of being one!

It was Alexander Fleming in 1928, who discovered Penicillin that changed the Medical world and the way we treated infections, which started of as an accidental discovery in a culture dish (Petri dish) of Staphylococcus aureus! And now, another Medical discovery by Professor Geoffrey Raisman the Chairman of 'Neural Regeneration' at the Institute of Neurology in University College London, in collaboration with the Polish Surgeons have discovered a transplant technique to make the spinal cord spring back to life! It is only the start, but new hope for millions of people worldwide in wheel chairs, paralysed from neck down or waist down, quadriplegics or paraplegics, who never could hope to use their limbs again! Darek Fidyka, 40 year old man whose spinal cord was completely severed when he was repeatedly stabbed from the back four years ago, is the first person to walk using a frame after receiving the transplant two years ago! Professor Raisman and Dr Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital leading the Polish Team, have been working tirelessly for many years for this miracle, though it will take more work before it can be offered to everyone!

It all started when Professor Raisman noticed under the microscope that the Olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) in the nose, the specialised cells for the sense of smell, had an uncanny resemblance to the structure of the nerve cells, which made him test it in rats in 1985 and found promising results! The Olfactory cells act as the pathway for the nerve fibres in the Olfactory system and this principle was used for this discovery. One of the Olfactory bulbs from Darek Fidyka was removed and then the cells were cultured and transplanted as microinjections into the spinal cord above and below the severed part of the cord. Then, four strips of nerve tissue (8mm long) were taken from his ankle and placed across the gap in the severed spinal cord, following which the transplanted Olfactory cells acted as the pathway for the nerve tissue to grow and fill the gap! Darek Fidyka was paralysed for two years when he had the transplant and three months later, he noticed his thigh muscles getting bulky! It took another six months before he was able to walk with support and leg braces. And now, after two years of the transplant, he is able to walk with a frame and has slight bladder, bowel and sexual sensation. But the surgeons need to treat another 10 patients before the treatment can be offered to everyone, and only those who had clean cut spinal injury would be tried in this group, as it is still in its infant stage – crush injury to the cord may not respond as a clean cut injury.

The research is mostly funded by charity organisations: 'Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF)' and the 'UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF)' are the main contributors for this project. When David Nicholls's (Chef in UK) son, Daniel was paralysed following a swimming accident, Nicholls set up the 'Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF)'. 'UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF)' was set up in 2007 to speed up progress of the 'Stem cell research' that gives promising results for various illnesses, including Parkinson's Disease! This project needs funding for further research and pilot studies before this ground breaking treatment could be offered to the millions of people worldwide and the progress of this miraculous treatment obviously would depend on the funding received! I felt honoured listening to Prof Geoffrey Raisman on the radio this afternoon, when he said that this miracle of a treatment is more impressive than 'Man walking on the Moon'. He added “ Nothing else would give me more pleasure than seeing him walk on his feet”, and 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"!

I salute Prof Geoffrey Raisman, Chairman of 'Neural Regeneration' at the Institute of Neurology in University College London, Dr Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital and all the others in both the teams in London and Poland! I hope and pray that this project progresses as expected, bringing 'Rebirth' and a brighter tomorrow to the millions worldwide who are committed to the wheelchair!

© E Menon



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