When we were at Queen Square Geoff Raisman was showing how you could use olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) to get spinal injured rats walking. He has teamed up with some Polish surgeons to test these approaches in humans and the results are now published. Nerves generally do not regrow in the central nervous system, but to keep your sense of smell going you do actually make new nerves.
So in this study they took these cells from the olfactory bulb from the brain, this contains the olfactory ensheathing cells. These were cultured and then transplanted above and below the stab injury that caused the paralysis in this trial. They also took a piece of peripheral nerve and used this to bridge the gap between the two sides of the spinal cord.
Many years ago I was in a Lab where we used pieces of muscle to act as a conduit to allow nerves to regrow through the muscle tubes to get sensation back to the feet of people with Leprosy. That was peripheral nerve and this is central nervous system, which is a whole dimension of extra difficulty.
One person has done reasonably well after this treatment. He had intensive physiotherapy and neurorehabilitation before the transplant to show this had not affect and after the transplant, but the results are very encouraging.
On the down side I wonder how many quack sites will spring up offering OEC. However this is not a simple procedure and this requires brain surgery and are not nose cells as reported widely in the media..
Perhaps a cut is the best thing to try and heal first. As you know a sharp cut leaves a nice scar whereas a blunt damage does not. However the treatment was long after the injury. The challenge for MS is greater because you have an ongoing disease process and multiple sites of damage. However the fact that this approach was started many months after the injury leaves me with a lot more optimism.
However, this has involved a lot of hard work but the recipient and his rehabilitation has been ongoing for 2 years..so remember it may not be a quick fix, but that this work suggests that nerves can have plasticity.
The results are published in Cell Transplantation, which a couple of years ago had No Impact Factor and now it is around four. The impact factor is a metric that some people i the University Top Brass use to judge how good the work is….This shows that you should judge a book by its cover. This paper has no doubt had global media coverage, is this the new metric….If it is time to start research on sex…it always gets the media interested:-)
For those of you in the UK who want to know more on the story then go to BBC iPlayer and you have a month to see the programme broadcast yesterday “To Walk Again” on Panorama. This is science in action.