For the first time a man is able to walk (no exoskeleton!) after suffering a completely severed spinal cord, thanks to a breakthrough treatment involving injection of brain cells into his spinal cavity.
No, this is not about a rat that’s crawling around after its spinal cord was severed.
It’s about a MAN who was able to walk – without an exoskeleton doing it for him – despite having suffered a transected spinal cord in a knife attack.
It’s believed that Darek Fidyka (pictured above), 40 at the time of the report, is the first person ever to walk without robotic help despite a severed spinal cord.
Credit goes to Wroclaw Medical University in Poland and University College London.
“We believe this procedure is the breakthrough which will result in a historic change,” says Professor Geoffrey Raisman of UCL in a Dailymail.com article.
How the Procedure Was Done
Our brain contains OECs: olfactory ensheathing cells, located in the brain’s olfactory bulb. These cells are designed to help repair damaged nerves in the nose.
Professor Raisman’s team made 100 micro-injections of the OECs into the site of Fidyka’s injury.
A small piece of nerve tissue, taken from his ankle, was grafted to the area of spinal cord transaction to serve as a scaffold on which new spinal neurons can grow and extend – guided by the OECs.
The ends of severed nerve fibers were able to grow and link together – a feat that was previously considered impossible.
Walking After Severed Spinal Cord Not Immediate
It was three months postop before Fidyka could even regain sensation in a leg. But a year later he was walking, albeit with leg braces and hands on parallel bars.
This is a giant leap from complete paralysis from the waist down and dependency on a wheelchair.
The full report is in Cell Transplantation.
“If we can convince the global neurosurgeon community that this works,” says Professor Raisman, “then it will develop very rapidly indeed.”
Update on Darek Fidyka
The Dailymail.com report was published in 2014. A March 2016 article at bbc.com reports that Fidyka can ride an adult-size tricycle with braces on his legs.
“Now I can feel each muscle and each press of the foot on the pedals,” says Fidyka in the bbc.com story.
“If we can bridge the gap between two spinal cord stumps,” says Dr. Pawel Tabakow, “then there will be no doubt that our technique works and this will be historic – we will have found a cure for paralysis.”
The Walk Again Project, as of the printing date of the bbc.com article, is seeking applicants for the same procedure. The requirement is complete transection of the spinal cord.
Fidyka is able to slowly walk using crutches, but this is tiring and he usually uses a wheelchair.
Nevertheless, the ability to even walk slowly with crutches and no exoskeleton is an astounding breakthrough in the treatment of severed spinal cords.
He also has sensation below the point of injury, restoring bladder and sexual function.
Leading Causes of Severed Spinal Cord
• Motor vehicle accident