The University College London is reporting that a surgical team from its spinal repair unit will attempt to use cells from the lining of the nose to improve neurologic deficits in patients status post spinal cord injury. The hope is in the regenerative ability of nose cells to bridge brocken neuro connections:
At least ten operations will be carried out to test in humans a technique pioneered by the neuroscientist Geoffrey Raisman, who heads the spinal repair unit of University College London. He discovered 20 years ago that cells from the lining of the nose constantly regenerate themselves. Professor Raisman’s team believes that if those cells were implanted at the site of the damage they would build a bridge across the break, allowing the nerve fibres to knit back together.
Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman and became paralysed after falling from a horse, had hoped that Prof Raisman’s work would bring a breakthrough, and they had planned to meet shortly before Reeve died.
The first operations will not enable someone as badly hurt as Reeve to walk again, but they could heal the common motorbike injury sustained when the nerves in the arm are pulled out of the spinal cord. Until now, such injuries have been inoperable.
Prof Raisman said yesterday, “It was in 1985 I discovered the cells. It has taken 20 years before I felt we had the technology to apply this to people. After spending this amount of time developing it, I’m not in a hurry. This is not the final stage, but it is the crucial stage of the research.”
“If this works well, it opens the door to an enormous area,” Prof Raisman said. “This is a door which has never been opened: to repair injuries to the brain and spinal cord caused by the disconnection of nerve fibres. The best possible outcome will be that these patients will get a return of sensation to the arm and a reduction of the pain associated with that injury.”
If successful, with refinement and research the procedure could be tried on people in a wheelchair. It also has the potential to heal other nerve injuries, such as those caused by stroke, blindness and deafness.