Spinal surgery breakthrough - studies to start in 2015

Clinical studies are set to start next year at UCL into the use of cells from the nose to repair damaged nerves in the spinal cord.

A state of the art clean room to culture cells is currently being completed using BRC funds and it will be the only facility in the UK able to do this at such a scale.

Clinical studies are due to start in 2015 of the use of Olfactory Ensheathing Cells (OECs) to repair brachial plexus avulsion, an injury common in motorcycle accidents when the nerve roots are pulled out of the spinal cord and the arm is left paralysed and senseless.

This kind of revolutionary way of regenerating nerve cells came under the spotlight this week when a pioneering cell transplantation treatment developed by scientists at UCL, led by Professor Geoff Raisman, Chair of Neural Regeneration at the UCL Institute of Neurology, was applied by surgeons at Wroclaw University Hospital, Poland.

The surgeons successfully used nerve-supporting cells from the nose of Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down following a knife attack in which his spine was severed, to provide pathways along which broken tissue was able to grow. Mr Fidyka is now able to walk again using a frame.

Clinicians and scientists are now looking for larger scale clinical trials to develop treatments that will benefit more paralysed people globally.

David Choi, Reader in Neurosurgery, Brain Repair & Rehabilitation at UCL Institute of Neurology, is leading the development of the clean room at the UCL Institute of Neurology, Queen Square.  Mr Choi, whose research into the use of OECs in spinal repair focuses on clinical translation and human studies, said: “It is now time to apply these cells in a larger number of patients with strict controls, quality standards and scientific methodology to see if these results are reproducible and not just due to chance.”

  • Professor Raisman’s research is published in Cell Transplantation and was jointly funded by the UK Stem Cell Foundation and the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. The research is featured in BBC One's Panorama programme and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer until September 2015.