BY DONNA WESTFALL
CREDIT TO BBC NEWS HEALTH
Olfactory ensheating cells (OEC’s) are specialist cells that form part of the sense of smell. These olfactory bulbs are found in the brain. In today’s news you can view a video by the BBC News Health – Medical section- showing 40 year old Polish man, Darek Fidyka, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010. He can now walk using a frame. Whereas prior to OEC transplantation, he would have been a paraplegic for the rest of his life. The feeling of being able to walk after not feeling anything in half of the body, must be like a rebirth.
OECs act as pathway cells that enable nerve fibers in the olfactory system to be continually renewed. In the first of two operations, Polish surgeons removed one of the patient’s olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture.
Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. They had just a drop of material to work with – about 500,000 cells.
Fidyka, who had been paralyzed for 2 years, started showing muscle growth three months after his surgery. Six months after his surgery, he took his first step.
Over 11,000 traumatic spinal cord injuries occur in the United States each year, the most famous being Christopher Reeve, who played Superman. Thrown from his horse in 1995, he became a quadriplegic. He lobbied for spinal cord research and held fast to the belief that a cure would be found.
With the majority of transplant patients, the utilization of drugs to suppress rejection must be used. In Fidyka’s case the scientists were able use the patient’s olfactory bulb, which is the richest source of olfactory ensheathing cells. This meant there was no danger of rejection, so no need for immunosuppressive drugs used in conventional transplants.
Truly another ground breaking discovery with miraculous results. Prof Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, led the UK research team. Equally miraculous is that none of those involved in the research want to profit from it.
Prof Geoff Raisman said: “It would be my proudest boast if I could say that no patient had had to pay one penny for any of the information we have found.”