UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


UCL research helps paralysed man to recover function

21 October 2014

A man who was paralysed from the chest down following a knife attack can now walk using a frame, following a pioneering cell transplantation treatment developed by scientists at UCL and applied by surgeons at Wroclaw University Hospital, Poland.

The research is published in the journal Cell Transplantation and was jointly funded by the UK Stem Cell Foundation and the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. The UK research team was led by Professor Geoff Raisman, Chair of Neural Regeneration at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

The technique involved using specialist cells from the nose, called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), in the spinal cord. These allow the nerve cells that give us a sense of smell to grow back when they are damaged.

The 38-year-old patient, Darek Fidyka, was paralysed after suffering stab wounds to the back in 2010, leaving an 8mm gap in his spinal cord. He described the ability to walk again using a frame as “an incredible feeling”, and added: “when you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s as if you were born again.”

Dr Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon, Wroclaw University Hospital, who led the Polish research team said: “It’s amazing to see how regeneration of the spinal cord, something that was thought impossible for many years, is becoming a reality.”

Professor Raisman first discovered OECs in 1985 and successfully showed that they could be used to treat spinal injuries in rats in 1997. He joined UCL in 2004 and has spent the past decade developing OEC spinal repair techniques for patients. Now, after decades of hard work, his research has helped a paralysed man to walk again.

The process has been documented in an exclusive BBC Panorama documentary, 'To Walk Again', broadcast at 22:30 on BBC One on Tuesday 21 October 2014.

Further information

Tabakow, Raisman et al. Functional regeneration of supraspinal connections in a patient with transected spinal cord following transplantation of bulbar olfactory ensheathing cells with peripheral nerve bridging clinical indication of beneficial effects of transplanted autologous bulbar cells. Cell Transplantation. Available online 21 October 2014. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3727/096368914X685131

UCL press release

BBC Panorama documentary 'To Walk Again'

Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation 

UK Stem Cell Foundation

Professor Raisman's profile on IRIS


Professor Geoff Raisman (courtesy of BBC Panorama)