1413849487121_wps_53_Embargoed_to_0001_TuesdayBreakthrough spinal injury surgery receives a cautious but optimistic response from Sydney spinal cord surgeon.  The pioneering technique, that has given a paralysed man the chance to walk again, involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the patient’s nasal cavity into his spinal cord.

Dr Timothy Steel said it was the first case he is aware of using stem cells to regenerate a spinal cord defect.  Dr Steel told F2L that use of the olfactory bulb stem cells is the best type of stem cells as these are the only stem cells, of neurological origin, that are available to repair the spinal nerves.   “The methodology behind this treatment is very impressive.” However, given the nature of the injury he believed there would be a limited number of patients who would benefit from this therapy as having such a clean cut was negligibly rare.  “I have only seen one spinal cord injury due to a knife in 25 years. It is very unusual to cleanly sever the spinal cord.”

In spite of these reservations, Dr Steel described the treatment as the most realistic advance in spinal cord surgery that he had read.  “The methodology sounds good as long as it is a genuine case of the cord being transected, with no prior function. It is always difficult to know in a case like this with a partial spinal cord injury if the patient was going to recover some function overtime anyway.  “This spinal cord was sectioned in half. If, in this case, if the spinal cord was sectioned the nerves should not have grown across. There originally would not have been the opportunity to get neurological recovery. If they have achieved neurological recovery return of neurological function, it is a tremendous advance.”

As to the surgery being performed in Australia, Dr Steel was circumspect. “Enrolling patients of this type would be difficult and it is a long way off from being freely available. We would want to see more cases, learn the technique. But certainly given the logistics of it and the idea of harvesting of olfactory bulb stem cells, and growing these cells it is a fantastic development.”

The treatment, which is a world-first, was performed by Polish surgeons in collaboration with a UK research team.  Two years after the surgery, the 38-year old patient is now walking using a frame and has recovered some sensation in his lower body.

Information about the surgery will be made available to other researchers around the world.