A father’s promise leads to life-changing medical breakthrough for spinal injuries

David & Daniel
    • Research funded by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (nsif) and UK Stem Cell Foundation uncovers a possible cure for paralysis
    • A paralysed man is now able to walk again
    • BBC One’s Panorama will reveal the full story in a special World Exclusive on Tuesday 21 October at 22.35 GMT + 1


On 30 December 2003, Daniel Nicholls, an eighteen year old young man from the UK on his gap year in Australia, dived into a wave on Bondi Beach, Sydney. Dan had no idea that a sandbank lay beneath and was instantly paralysed from the neck down.

His father, David Nicholls, worldwide Director of Food and Beverage for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, flew to Australia to bring Dan home. Dan spent the following year in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, one of the UK’s leading hospitals for spinal injury treatment and rehabilitation.

David promised Dan that he would not give up trying to find a way to cure paralysis; that decision has changed the course of medical research. David’s promise was the catalyst for him to set up nsif, a charity devoted to spinal injury research and treatment, in the hope that one day it would lead to a cure for paralysis.

David’s search for effective medical treatment for paralysis led him to pioneering neuroscientist Professor Geoffrey Raisman at the UCL Institute of Neurology, whose work centres on olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) found in the nose. When the nerve fibres that carry smell become damaged, they are replaced by new nerve fibres which re-enter the olfactory bulbs (OBs). OECs facilitate this process by re-opening the surface of the OBs in order for the new nerve fibres to enter. Professor Raisman and his team believed that transplanting OECs into the damaged spinal cord could enable severed nerve fibres to re-grow.

In collaboration with Dr Pawel Tabakow, Assistant Professor in Neurosurgery at Wroclaw Medical University in Poland, Professor Raisman has put his theory to the test – with staggering results for Polish patient, Darek, who became paralysed in 2010.

Darek was severely injured when he was stabbed in an attack. He was left paralysed from the chest down, with complete spinal cord transection. Following treatment from Dr Tabakow, based on Professor Raisman’s research, Darek is now able to walk with a frame and has recovered lower limb sensation. He is continuing to improve further than predicted; he is able to drive and live more independently.

BBC One’s Panorama has filmed his progress since December 2013; the programme will transmit as a World Exclusive on Tuesday 21 October at 22.35 GMT + 1.

Darek is the first person to regain vital abilities thanks to research funded by the nsif. This offers hope to thousands more.

Over the last decade, nsif has raised money to pay for this breakthrough research and treatment with fundraising activities, including a book of ‘at home’ recipes by international chefs entitled Off Duty and other fundraising activities. nsif is supported by many patrons, such as Gary Lineker and Sir Richard Branson, and David’s network of world famous chefs, including Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.

David Nicholls, founder of the nsif, comments:

“Paralysis is something that most of us don’t know very much about, because we are not affected by it.  One of the most devastating moments a parent will ever experience is the sight of their son or daughter lying motionless in a bed and facing the reality that they may never walk again.”

“I felt compelled to do something, not just to help Dan but also to help the 2.5 million other people around the world who are paralysed. The young man who was in the bed next to Dan in Australia, also paralysed from the neck down, had parents who were so traumatised by the finality of their son’s condition that they came to visit him once and never came back.”

“I promised Dan that I would not give up until a cure had been found. Professor Geoffrey Raisman and Dr Pawel Tabakow’s breakthrough marks the first step. The scientific information relating to this significant advancement will be made available to other researchers around the world so that together we can fight to finally find a cure for this condition which robs people of their lives.”

Professor Geoffrey Raisman, Spinal Repair Unit, UCL Institute of Neurology, London, comments:

“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.”

“We are currently raising the funds to mount an Anglo-Polish initiative to verify the benefits of this approach with further patients.”

This breakthrough represents the superhuman efforts of David Nicholls and his remarkable team in the fight to find a cure for paralysis, a cause deemed hopeless by many just a few years ago.

Off Duty is available to purchase from the nsif website for £25 including postage and packaging.

Key Facts about nsif

    • nsif is a charity devoted solely to research into treatment for spinal injury
    • It was set up by David Nicholls following an accident which left his son Daniel Nicholls paralysed at the age of 18
    • Professor Raisman is a pioneering neuroscientist based at the UCL Institute of Neurology. His research is co-funded by nsif and the UK Stem Cell Foundation. Dr Pawel Tabakow is a leading surgeon at the Neurosurgery Department of Wrocław Medical University.  His collaboration with Professor Raisman is funded by nsif.
    • Despite the significant medical breakthrough featured on the BBC One’s Panorama programme, much research still needs to be conducted in this area. nsif needs to raise considerable further money to continue to fund this research for five years

To donate visit www.nsif.org.uk or text NSIF5 to 70085 and make a difference today


Notes to editors

The research has been peer-reviewed and will be published in the journal Cell Transplantation (to be available from Tuesday 21 October) here: https://www.cognizantcommunication.com/journal-titles/cell-transplantation

Footage from BBC One’s Panorama http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04mm8zl is available here:  http://www.eurovision.net/index.php

The spokespeople available for interview are:

    • David Nicholls, founder of nsif
    • Professor Geoffrey Raisman, Spinal Repair Unit, UCL Institute of Neurology, London
    • Helen Fospero (founding patron and television presenter)

Please get in touch with our media contact below.

Images of the spokespeople, Dan Nicholls and further nsif patrons are available here: http://tinyurl.com/nsif-images

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