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October 22, 2014

“Bigger than landing on the moon” – paralyzed man walks after new surgery

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A formerly paralyzed man is walking again, in the first-ever case of recovery from complete paralysis.

Darek Fidyka was injured in a knife attack in London in 2010. The weapon severed his spinal cord at chest height and left him unable to move his body from the arms down.

Two years ago, a London medical team performed an experimental surgery in Poland to repair Fidyka’s spine using cells from his nose: olfactory ensheathing cells.  The cells act as a pathway for repairing nerve fibers in the nasal cavity.

The team removed the cells from Fidyka’s nasal cavity and injected them into an 8-millimeter gap in his spine along with ankle tissue to help support repair of the area. The cells helped restore the nerve fiber and re-bridged the gap between the spinal tissues that had been severed – which has slowly allowed the patient to be able to feel and move his body.

Now after two years of physical therapy combined with the experimental surgery, Fidyka is able to walk again, marking the first time that anyone has made a significant recovery from complete spinal paralysis.

The surgery is the first of its kind—no other procedure has ever reconnected two ends of broken spinal tissue.

The discovery could lead the way to curing paralysis in other patients, according to Geoffrey Raisman from University College London, who led the UK team’s research for the project.

“This is a bigger thing than landing a man on the moon,” he said.

Although Fidyka‘s results are promising, scientists caution that further research is needed. In order to use the same method on other patients, scientists must replicate the process in randomized trials.


Warm up questions
  1. What does it mean to be paralyzed? How do people become paralyzed?
  2. Is there any treatment for patients who have been paralyzed?
  3. How might being paralyzed change your life? What things could and couldn’t you do? For example, how might your morning routine be different if you were paralyzed?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How is a spinal cord injury different from other injuries, like a broken arm, for example?
  2. If the procedure is replicated by other scientists, how might it change the way spinal cord injuries are treated?
  3. Although the procedure is still experimental, would you try it if you or a loved one became paralyzed? What are the risks and benefits to an experimental drug or procedure?
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