Paralyzed Man Walks With Help After New Treatment

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A paralyzed man was able to walk with some assistance after doctors transplanted cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord.

The patient, a Polish man who was paralyzed from the chest down after a knife attack severed his spinal cord, showed only modest improvement, and experts cautioned that similar procedures have been tried for decades with mixed success. Animal trials have gone both ways.

But in a study published Monday in the journal Cell Transplantation, doctors in Poland and scientists in Britain describe transplanting olfactory cells into the patient's spinal cord and constructing a "nerve bridge" between two stumps of the damaged spinal column. The patient was able to move his limbs a little without help, regained some sensation and was even able to walk with short braces, holding himself with his arms on parallel bars. The procedure was filmed for the BBC program “Panorama.”

Dr. Brian Kwon, a spine surgeon at the University of British Columbia who was not involved with the research, said he was cautiously excited because it was a small study that found only modest improvements. “Any type of improvement is important, and our field will move forward with this type of research, even if it is a small improvement,” Kwon said.

He and other experts suggested more research is needed to evaluate the promise of the technique. “In fact, there is no evidence that the transplant is responsible for the reported neurological improvement,” said Dr. Simone Di Giovanni, Chair in Restorative Neuroscience at Imperial College London.


-Judy Silverman