Bulgarian fireman Darek Fidyka was left paralysed from the chest down after his spinal cord was severed when he was stabbed repeatedly in the back in a street attack in 2010.
In a groundbreaking procedure, surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London, transplanted olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the patients nose into the site of his injury.
The complex neural circuitry responsible for our sense of smell is the only part of the nervous system that regenerates throughout adult life and it is this ability that scientists have tried to exploit in stimulating repair in the spinal cord.
Mr Fidyka first noticed that the treatment had been successful after about three months, when his left thigh began putting on muscle and six months after surgery he was able to take his first tentative steps along parallel bars, using leg braces and the support of a physiotherapist.
Two years after the treatment, he can now walk outside the rehabilitation centre using a walking frame.
All those involved in the research are keen not to raise false hopes in patients and stress that the success will need to be repeated to show definitively whether it can stimulate spinal cord regeneration.
It does however offer some hope to the many thousands of people who suffer paralysis following damage to the spinal cord, including those incurred as a result of sporting injuries.
Source: BBC News
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