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Curing Paralysis With NOSE CELLS?!

Oct 21, 2014 07:27 PM EDT

The nose knows... and cures paralysis to boot! That's at least according to a recent miraculous case where researchers used a paralyzed man's nose cells to help him regain some sensation and voluntary movement.

The man in question, Darek Fidyka, was left paralyzed from the chest down after suffering stab wounds to his back in 2010. Now he is reportedly on a swift recovery, even driving his car again, albeit with a thick back frame to help support core muscles that have been out of use for some time.

The work is due to be published in the peer reviewed journal Cell Transplantation.

This miracle was reportedly made possible by a breakthrough in nerve fiber reconstructive techniques, where damaged nerve cells - as long as not utterly destroyed - can be encouraged to repair using a type of cell found in the nose called an olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC).

In the nose, these cells work to replace smell-carrying nerve cells when damaged in the nose, opening what are called the olfactory bulbs to facilitate a regrowth process that will weave new fibers. This is not all that conceptually different from a mysterious process in crayfish that can replace damaged olfactory neurons with altered blood cells.

Unfortunately, in the spinal cord, no such process can naturally occur. Following traumatic damage, scar tissue gets in the way of any potential nerve cell regrowth. Once neurologists realized exactly what OECs were doing, they thought, "could these cells pave the way for spinal regeneration as well?" and at least in Fidyka's case, the answer appears to be a resounding "yes."

It's important to note that this work did more than just encourage a damaged-but-still-whole spinal cord to function again - as other work has accomplished in the past. Fidyka's spinal cord and the associated nerves had been utterly severed, and the OECs were used to help grow new neural pathways across a physical bridge of nerve tissue stripped from his ankle.

"We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which - as it is further developed - will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury," Jeoffrey Raisman, who was intimately involved in the work, said in a recent release. "We are currently raising the funds to mount an Anglo-Polish initiative to verify the benefits of this approach with further patients."

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