A new study is giving hopes to thousands of people paralyzed via various spinal cord injuries. A man, paralyzed from the chest down, is walking after undergoing a breakthrough treatment. After failing to recover from a knife attack in 2010, the experimental surgery involved using the cells responsible for the sense of smell.

Researchers at the University College of London developed the technique that uses olfactory ensheathing cells and placing them in the spinal cord. The success opens the doors for possible treatment protocols for a variety of spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries of this nature typically occur during car crashes and sports injuries.

Until today, there was no set treatment guideline for these injuries. Hopefully, the new research and technique opens the door for thousands to regain the use of what was permanently damaged body functions.

Geoff Raisman, chairman of neural regeneration at UCL, spoke about the breakthrough. “We have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury that will get patients out of wheelchairs. Our goal now is to develop this first procedure to a point where it can be rolled out as a worldwide general approach.”

The new technique, published in the journal Cell Transplantation, is a culmination of decades of research. The cells were first discovered by Raisman in 1985. In 1997, it was shown that they could repair spinal cord injuries in rats. The procedure on patient was performed by surgeons at the Wroclaw Hospital in Poland.

It was an arduous process for the man. He first had to undergo brain surgery to remove an olfactory bulb. That was placed in a cell culture for two weeks to manufacture the olfactory cells. The cells were then injected, along with four strips of nerve tissue from his ankle, into the spinal cord.

After three months, the patient’s left thigh muscle began to grow, an at the six-month mark, he was walking with the help of leg braces and rehab specialists.

Now the task before the medical community is testing the procedure further. There needs to be clear guidelines on how to replicate the result, and if it works across a variety of spinal injuries.

Still, the news is promising, even with the years of tests and studies still left to be done. Hope coupled with medical progress is always a good thing.


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