UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Spinal Repair Unit

Using surgical techniques to correct neurological problems, and developing new ways to repair spinal injury

Spinal repair

Confocal fluorescent micrographs showing sagittal cryosections of 17 pcw human foetal olfactory system*

Scientific Lead:

Professor Ying Li

Clinical Lead:
Professor David Choi

Research Team:
Dr Daqing Li
Mr Ahmed Ibrahim
Modinat Liadi
Kamile Minkelyte

Research Goals

  • To develop a method of repair for spinal cord injuries using transplanted olfactory ensheathing cells cultured from the olfactory system.
  • To apply successful results in experimental models to patients with spinal cord injury, using the patient’s own donor tissue.
  • To optimize the quality of cell production, bridging material and surgical approaches.

Funded Research Projects

  • Characterisation of cell types obtained from mixed cell cultures of the human olfactory mucosa for the application of central nerve repair. Funded by the Wellcome Trust HICF
  • Repair of spinal cord injury by transplantation of olfactory ensheathing cells. Funded by the UK SCF and NSIF

GMP production of human olfactory ensheathing cells. Funded by the National Brain Appeal


Recent publications from Spinal Repair


Afshari FT, Choi D, Russo A. Controversies regarding mobilisation and rehabilitation following acute spinal cord injury. Br J Neurosurg, online 1st January 2020.

Bartlett RD, Burley S, Phillips JB, Choi D.  Cell therapies for spinal cord injury:  trends and challenges of current clinical trials. Neurosurgery, online 4th June 2020

Depreitere B, Ricciardi F, Arts M, Balabaud L, Bunger C, Buchowski JM, Chung CK, Coppes MH, Fehlings MG, Kawahara N, Martin-Benlloch JA, Massicotte EM, Mazel C, Meyer B, Oner FC, Peul W, Quraishi N, Tokuhashi Y, Tomita K, Verlaan J-J, Wang M, Crockard HA, Choi D. How good are the outcomes of instrumented debulking operations for symptomatic spinal metastases and how long do they stand? A subgroup analysis in the global spine tumor study group database. Acta Neurochirurgica, online 17th January 2020.

Hill CS, Muirhead WR, Vakharia VN, Marcus HJ, Choi D.  An exit strategy for resuming nonemergency neurosurgery after severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2:  A United Kingdom perspective.  World Neurosurgery, online 4th June 2020


Choi D. Expert’s comment concerning Ground Rounds case entitled ‘Malignant triton tumor: Grand Round presentation of a rare aggressive case thoracolumbar spine tumor’ by S Ghailane et al. European Spine Journal, 18 April 2018.

Choi D. Expert’s comment concerning Grand Rounds case entitled ‘Idiopathic spinal cord herniation: consideration of its pathogenesis based on the histopathology of the dura mater’ by S Shimuzu et al. European Spine Journal, 19 April 2018.

Georgiou M, Reis JND, Wood R, Esteban PP, Roberton V, Mason C, Li D, Li Y, Choi D, Wall I. Bioprocessing strategies to enhance the challenging isolation of neuro-regenerative cells from olfactory mucosa. Scientific Reports 2018; 8(1) UCL Discovery

Liadi M, Collins A, Li Y, Li D. The impact of tissue storage conditions on rat olfactory ensheathing cell yield and the future clinical implications. Cell Transplantation 2018; 27(9): 1320-1327 UCL Discovery


Collins A, Li D, Liadi M, Tabakow P, Fortuna W, Raisman G, Li Y. Partial recovery of proprioception in rats with dorsal root injury following human olfactory bulb cell transplantation. Journal of Neurotrauma, online 29 Dec 2017. DOI: 10.1089/neu.2017.5273

Galgano M, Fridley J, Oyelese A, Telfian A, Kosztowski T, Choi D, Gokaslan ZL. Surgical management of spinal metastases. Expert Review of Anticancer Therapy 2018; 18-5:463-472.

Huang H, Young W, Chen L …. Li Y, Li D … Li T. Clinical cell therapy guidelines for neurorestoration (IANR/CANR 2017). Cell Transplantation 2018; 27-2; 310-324.

Lui J, Sayal P, Choi D. Spinal cord suspension using dentate ligament hitch stitches: a novel technique for the repair of ventral spinal cord herniation. Operative Neurosurgery 2018; 14-3:252-258.

Lui JYC, Sayal P, Prezerakos G, Russo V, Choi D, Casey ATH. The surgical management of dysphagia secondary to diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 2018; 167:36-42.

Turner I, Kennedy J, Morris S, Crockard A, Choi D. Surgery and radiotherapy for symptomatic spinal metastases is more cost effective than radiotherapy alone: a cost utility analysis in a UK spinal center. World Neurosurgery, online 1 January 2018.

Wright E, Ricciardi F, Arts M, Buchowski JM, Chung CK, Coppes M, Crockard A, Depreitere B, Fehlings M, Kawahara N ….Choi D. Metastatic spine tumor epidemiology: comparison of trends in surgery across two decades and three continents. World Neurosurgery, online 20 March 2018.

Turner I, Kennedy J, Morris S, Crockard A, Choi D.  Surgery and radiotherapy for symptomatic spinal metastases is more cost effective than radiotherapy alone:  a cost utility analysis in a UK spinal center.  World Neurosurgery, online 1 January 2018.  DOI: 10.1016/j.wneu.2017.09.189


Collins A, Li D, McMahon SB, Raisman G, Li Y. Transplantation of Cultured Olfactory Bulb Cells Prevents Abnormal Sensory Responses During Recovery From Dorsal Root Avulsion in the Rat. Cell Transplantation 2017; Vol. 26(5):913-924. doi: 10.3727/096368917X695353. Epub 2017 Mar 23.

Nater A, Martin AR, Sahgal A, Choi D, Fehlings MG. Symptomatic spinal metastasis: A systematic literature review of the preoperative prognostic factors for survival, neurological, functional and quality of life in surgically treated patients and methodological recommendations for prognostic studies. PLoS One 2017 Feb 22;12(2):e0171507. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171507. eCollection 2017.


Bartlett RD, Choi D, Phillips JB. Biomechanical properties of the spinal cord: implications for tissue engineering and clinical translation. Regenerative Medicine 2016 Oct;11(7):659-73. doi: 10.2217/rme-2016-0065. Epub 2016 Sep 5.

Borg A, Kirkman MA, Choi D. Endoscopic Endonasal Anterior Skull Base Surgery: A systematic review of complications during the past 65 years. World Neurosurg. 2016 Nov;95:383-391.doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2015.12.105. Epub 2016 Mar 4.

Oprych K, Cotfas D, Choi D. Common olfactory ensheathing glial markers in the developing human olfactory system. Brain Struct Funct 2017; 222(4):1877-1895. doi: 10.1007/s00429-016-1313-y. Epub 2016 Oct 7.

Verlaan JJ, Choi D, Versteeg A et al. Characteristics of Patients Who Survived < 3 Months or > 2 Years After Surgery for Spinal Metastases: Can We Avoid Inappropriate Patient Selection? J Clin Oncol. 2016;34(25):3054-61.doi: 10.1200/JCO.2015.65.1497. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


Li Y, Li D, Raisman G. Functional repair of rat corticospinal tract lesions does not require permanent survival of an immuno-incompatible transplant. Cell Transplantation 2016; 25 (2): 293-9. doi: 10.3727/096368915X688551. Epub 2015 Jun 30.


Tabakow P, Raisman G, Fortuna W, Czyz M, Huber J, Li D, Szewczyk P, Okurowski S, Miedzybrodzki R, Czapiga B, Salomon B, Halon A, Li Y, Lipiec J, Kulczyk A, Jarmundowicz W. Functional regeneration of supraspinal connections in a patient with transected spinal cord following transplantation of bulbar olfactory ensheathing cells with peripheral nerve bridging. Cell Transplantation 2014; 23 (12), 1631-55. doi: 10.3727/096368914X685131. Epub 2014 Oct 21.

Further information

* Oprych et al. (2017). Common olfactory ensheathing glial markers in the developing human olfactory system.  Brain Structure and Function May 2017, Volume 222, Issue 4, pp 1877–1895. doi:10.1007/s00429-016-1313-y