The procedure being developed today is based on research by Professor Geoffrey Raisman and his team based at the UCL Institute of Neurology. Dr. Pawel Tabakow was inspired by this research to develop a clinical procedure.
The breakthrough towards curing spinal injury is a culmination of many decades of research. In 1969, Professor Raisman discovered the ability of damaged nerve tissue to form new connections. He called this plasticity. At the time it was a fiercely contested theory; it has since become an accepted fact.
In 1985, he identified the role of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) in allowing nerve fibres to regenerate into the brain.
Through these and other discoveries, Professor Raisman saw the potential to one day allow for nerve fibre regeneration in spinal cord injury.
With a spinal cord injury, scar tissue forms at the injury site and blocks the regeneration of the severed nerve fibres. Professor Raisman’s hypothesis was that the nerve fibres would regenerate and restore function if they were given a bridge across the scar.
To find materials that could produce such a bridge, Professor Raisman focused on the nerves of the sense of smell, since they are the only known situation where nerve fibres are able to regenerate. Professor Raisman showed that the pathway along which these fibres regenerate was provided by OECs.
When he first published this research, many neurosurgeons became interested. Dr. Tabakow, based at Wroclaw University Hospital in Poland, examined the research and cells carefully and began corresponding with Professor Raisman.
Dr. Tabakow’s team invited Professor Raisman’s team out to Poland. While they were there, Dr Tabakow successfully transplanted OECs from high up in the nasal system into a patient’s injury site, using a strip of nerves to bridge the large gap that occurs in human spinal injury.
Since then, Dr. Tabakow has continued rehabilitation of this patient for a number of years, visiting projects all over the world to observe and then refine and optimise his rehabilitation method, with significant consequences.
This patient is now able to walk with a frame and is still continuing to show improvement.
We will be reporting on any advances as they happen via this website.
History of Research
- Discovery of the ability of damaged nerve tissue to form new connections (‘plasticity’) opens the door to the concept of repair (Raisman)
- Development of technique of transplantation (Zhou, Raisman)
- Description of the role of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) in allowing nerve fibres to regenerate into the brain (Raisman)
- Culture of adult OECs (Ramon-Cueto and Nieto-Sampedro)
- Demonstration of long fibre growth in the spinal cord (Li, Raisman)
- First laboratory account of reconnection of damaged spinal nerve fibres and recovery of function (Ying Li and Raisman)
- Confirmation of recovery of function (Ramon-Cueto)
- First clinical demonstration of safety of OEC transplantation in spinal injured patients (Mackay-Sim and others)
- Confirmation of safety of OEC transplantation in spinal injured patients (Tabakow, Raisman and others)
- First account of reconnection of severed long spinal nerve fibres in a single patient with microinjection of autologous bulbar OECs and application of bridging peripheral nerve strips (Tabakow, Raisman and others)
Confirmation of laboratory data of 1997
**Source: World Health Organization