British-funded research has led to a major breakthrough in spinal surgery after surgeons in Poland were able to regenerate nerve fibres in the spinal cord of Derek Fidyka, who was left completely paralysed from the waist down four years ago after being repeatedly stabbed in the back. Mr Fidyka has become the first known person to recover the ability to walk after spinal surgery.
This pioneering surgery marks a breakthrough in treating those who have been paralysed after an accident or injury. The British research on which the surgery was based used nerve cells taken from the nasal cavity, which are the only ones in the human body known to regenerate. These were surgically implanted into Mr Fidyka's damaged spinal cord. Previously, it had been understood that spinal regeneration was impossible but the cells grew and re-established nerve connections.
Three months after the procedure, Mr Fidyka’s left thigh began to develop new muscle. After six months he was able to walk using parallel bars. Two years on he can walk outside with the support of a frame. He has also recovered some bowel and bladder sensation and sexual function. MRI scans have revealed that the gap in his spinal cord has closed and tests indicate that his recovery is due to regeneration of his spinal cord using the transplanted cells.
Commenting on the news, Arran Macleod of Penningtons Manches' personal injury and clinical negligence team, says: "This is potentially an incredibly important breakthrough for patients who have been paralysed and have all been told that they could not be treated. It is very early days but this does seem to mark a profound advance in medical science.
"We advise many people who suffer spinal injuries and who have been left with long-term paralysis, many of whom struggle to cope with the effects on their day-to-day lives. This success story brings much needed hope to people who have suffered serious spinal cord trauma. Further research is needed before this becomes mainstream treatment but we hope this marks the start of surgery that will become widely available."