In the news over the past few weeks has been the story of Darek Fidyka who is now able to walk with an aid after previously been paralysed from the chest down. So, how has this been possible?
Darek Fidyka suffered a spinal cord injury after being stabbed in the back. The spinal cord is the highway of information from your brain to the rest of your body. If this highway is blocked off (damaged) then the information is unable to be sent one way or another. This occurs below the level of the injury, for example, if the injury to the spinal cord was in the lumbar part of the spine then the paralysis would occur from the lower back downwards but the arms would still be OK.
So in order to cure a paralysis you have to fix the spinal cord at the affected area and everything else should fall into place. This case was unique as the injury to the spinal cord was a straight cut of approximately 8mm which the scientists proposed to bridge using nerves from the nose. These olfactory ensheathing cells are known to grow at a fast rate where usually nerves either grow back very slowly or not at all. Using this technique the gap in the spinal cord has been bridged and the messages from the lower body are now able to be sent to the brain allowing the patient to have some mobility in his legs.
This is a great step forward in medicine but there is much more work to be done. Spinal cord injuries are more commonly crush injuries, which may require a different approach than this type of treatment but it allows other avenues to be explored after this success. Hopefully there will be many more success stories in years to come!