Fidyka was left paralysed following a knife attack in 2010 that severed his
spinal cord. He told the BBC that walking again was 'an incredible feeling'. 'When you can't feel almost
half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it's like you
were born again,' he said. As well as the surgery, Mr Fidyka has also undergone
an intensive physiotherapy programme, and he has now regained muscle mass and
movement, as well as some bladder, bowel and sexual function.
recovery was the result of research led by Professor Geoffrey Raisman, chair of neural regeneration
at University College London, and Dr Pawel Tabakow, a consultant neurosurgeon at
Wroclaw University Hospital, Poland. Professor Raisman described the
achievement as being 'more impressive than man walking on the moon'.
transplantation used olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) — specialised nerve cells
that are part of the system which gives us our sense of smell; the olfactory
system. A unique property of these cells is that they have the ability to regenerate,
unlike other nerve cells.
removed one of the man's own olfactory bulbs (an area at the base of the brain,
rich in these cells), and cultured OECs in the laboratory. Two weeks later, the
cells were injected above and below the injury, and strips of nerve fibres were
taken from his ankle and placed across the gap, aiming to form a bridge that
the cells could grow across.
the man's own cells means that rejection by his immune system was not a concern,
and immunosuppressive drugs are not required. There were also no other reported
complications, such as provoking pain or further deterioration of the spinal
these results are promising, scientists have noted that we must be cautious
until they can be repeated in further patients. Dr Dusko Ilic, senior
lecturer in stem cell science, King's College London, stated: 'Although the achievement is
indeed revolutionary, this approach worked only in one patient so far. It
is known from published animal studies that in some cases transplantation of
OECs led to marked improvements, whereas in other cases not.We need to
enrol more people in the study to get a better idea how reliable and
repeatable this approach is.'