Can an Unorthodox Operation Reverse Paraplegia?

January 23, 2016

Surgical recipient, Darek Fidyka Photo: Carla Van De Puttelaar for The New Yorker

“One Small Step,” in the January 25th issue of the ” New Yorker” magazine, focuses on the story of Darek Fidyka,  a 41-year-old Polish paraplegic, and a landmark operation that has enabled him to walk.  Fidyka, who was attacked with a knife in 2010 and is a T9 paraplegic, underwent an unorthodox operation In 2012 in which some of his own olfactory ensheathing cells, which run from the nose to the brain, were surgically removed and inserted into the damaged area of his spinal cord.  As a result of the operation and intense physical therapy, today he has sensation in his legs and is able to walk while wearing leg braces.


The surgery, which was performed by neurosurgeon Pawel Tabakow in Wroclaw, Poland, is a result of his collaboration with maverick English scientist Geoffrey Raisman of the Institute of Neurology at University College, London.   Raisman has been developing the idea of transplanting nerves from the nasal cavity, which have a unique ability to regenerate, into damaged spinal cords for more than 20 years. Fidyka is their first human subject.

The doctors estimate that the surgery and rehab have restored less than 10% of Fidyka’s neurons. But the results of changed his life: he can now walk 15 feet in braces with crutches, pedal a tricycle and his sexual function has improved, which he says is “probably the most important thing in this entire situation.”

His doctors acknowledge that they can’t prove that the nasal cells alone made the difference. It could be a combination of factors, including the nature of the damage to Fidkya’s spinal cord from the knife wound. Plans are underway to identify more patients. This is just the story a single patient, and a single step which could prove to be in the right direction.

Read the full article, which also contains an excellent summary of research on reversing paralysis, as well as Fidkya’s story here:


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