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Pioneering procedure helps paralyzed man walk again

Cells harvested from a patient's nose helped return function to a damaged spinal cord. Now he is able to walk with help from ropes and guide bars.

  • CBS News Staff

Four years ago, Darek Fidyka was left paralyzed after a knife attack. Now, thanks to a pioneering cell transplant, he is able to walk again with a little support.

"When the feeling begins to come back -- it is like you are born again," he told CBS News correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh.

In a procedure that was the first of its kind in the world, doctors in Poland took cells from Darek's nasal cavity and grew them in the lab. Two weeks later they transplanted the cells into his spinal cord around the injury. Four strips of nerve tissue were also taken from his ankle and placed across his spinal cord.

Scientists believed the nasal cavity cells could stimulate the spinal cord cells to regenerate. The cells grew, and now some brain signals are reaching his lower body.

Professor Geoff Raisman of University College London's Institute of Neurology conducted some of the groundbreaking research, and calls this a historic step in medicine. "To me, this is more impressive than the man walking on the moon," he said.

Researchers are excited about the procedure's promise for others suffering from paralysis from spinal cord injuries. "I've waited 40 years for a moment like this," said Wagih El Masri, professor of spinal injuries at Keele University in England. "I am hopeful this moment will be repeated and confirmed."

Fidkya, who is now able to walk using ropes and guide bars, says it's an incredible feeling. He has regained some sensation in his lower limbs and is also able to drive and live more independently.

Researchers in England and Poland who developed the procedure say more study is needed and they plan to test it on more patients. Details of the research have been published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

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