Could my client walk again? Cell transplantation is a step closer

The truth is, that as lawyers, we are limited in what we can actually offer our clients. Particularly those with catastrophic injuries who have been told that they will never walk again. Being able to recover money is frankly a sup to the life changing trauma they have experienced. What every lawyers wishes they could do; and what every client dreams we could deliver, is the ability to wind back the clock to pre-accident times, or to restore the ability to be independently mobile.

We are certainly not there yet, but a huge advance has been announced by scientists in the search to treat and assist the paralysed.

Professor Geoff Raisman (UCL Institute of Neurology) led the UK research team which helped to develop the system to transplant olfactory ensheathing cells (‘OEC’) from his nasal cavity to his spinal cord.

Here’s the science bit :- OEC act as pathway cells and allow the nerve fibres either side to be continuously renewed. The procedure involved removing the OEC and growing cells in a culture. These were injected either side of the gap in the damaged spinal cord. The gap itself was filled with nerve tissue taken from the patient’s ankle. The OEC provided a pathway for fibres from above and below the 8mm gap to connect.

It appears from MRI scans that the gap in the spinal cord has decreased and clinical evidence shows that the left side muscle and movement has improved, indicating that regeneration is occurring.

The surgeon Dr Pavel Tabakow (consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital) announced yesterday that Darek Fidyka, a 40 year old patient, paralysed from the chest down, had been able to walk with a frame outside the rehabilitation unit.

Mr Fidyka was injured by a knife attack which all but severed the left side of his spinal cord. What appears to have made him an ideal patient was that the cut to his spinal cord was straight and clear (i.e not a tear) and that his own olfactory bulb could be used (thus negating the need for immunosuppressant, or the risk of rejection).

The research was supported by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation, who have indicated that any patents arising from this research will be obtained by them, so that they can be widely used.

This is great news for Claimants who remain in a rehabilitation phase. Both Dr Tabakow and the Nicholls Spinal Foundation indicate an interest in further patients who wish to take part. The UK Stem Cell Foundation clearly see it as a step in the right direction.

Although it is not for lawyers to provide the treatment, it is encouraging to see that what we might be able to fight for in the future, is the funding to provide treatment leading to a much higher level of recovery and independence for our clients.

Further Information

By Sally Cowen