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News of the Day ... in Perspective


Can olfactory stem cells help paraplegics walk again?

Patients with spinal cord injuries from around the world are watching Erica Nader, the first American to travel to Portugal, in March 2003, for experimental surgery.

Cells harvested from her olfactory mucosa were transplanted into the region of her cord that was injured in a 2001 car crash.

Once paralyzed “from the biceps down,” Erica can now feed herself and walk with assistance, leg braces, and a walker. Progress, with intensive physical therapy, is painfully slow.

The surgical team in Portugal has performed about 30 operations since 2001. The operation costs $47,600 (Knight Ridder News Services, Jan 18, 2005).

While most researchers have concentrated on embryonic stem cells, a small number of scientists, including two based at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, have focused on the richest source of adult stem cells—inside the nose. The olfactory ensheathing glial cells (OEGCs) have a remarkable capacity for regeneration.

Human clinical trials began in Brisbane in 2002, two years after a Spanish scientist, Almudena Ramon-Cueto, showed that paralyzed rats could walk and even climb again after OEGCs were transplanted into their severed spinal cords (Courier Mail, Queensland, Australia, July 13, 2002).

Additional information:

Center for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan

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