Forgot Password

Sign In


  • Company Information

  • Billing Address

  • Are you primarily interested in advertising *

  • Do you want to recieve the HealthTimes Newsletter?

  • Bondi accident led to spinal breakthrough

    Author: AAP

A Bulgarian man paralysed in 2010 is walking again with the help of a frame as a result of research linked to a tragic accident at Bondi a decade ago.

A freak accident at Bondi beach more than a decade ago has led to a medical breakthrough that could allow paralysed patients to walk again.

Subscribe for FREE to the HealthTimes magazine

A professor working on the project believes they are "on the threshold of a historic advance" that would benefit humankind.

The story, told in a BBC Panorama documentary to be broadcast on Tuesday, began in 2003 when Daniel Nicholls from the UK was on a gap year.

The 18-year-old had been in Australia five weeks when he went swimming at Bondi, dived into a wave, hit a sandbank and broke his neck.

He was instantly paralysed.

Daniel's father, David Nicholls, travelled to the Prince of Wales hospital in Randwick to be with his son.

"The first thing I did was promise Dan that we were going to get him fixed because I had no idea that you couldn't fix paralysis," the now 57-year-old told AAP.

Nicholls was inspired to set up the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation after discovering another young man at Randwick had been abandoned by his parents. He had the same injury as Daniel.

"That was the catalyst," Nicholls said.

"I just thought that was completely unfair."

Daniel, now 28 and living in south London, is hopeful about the research detailed in Tuesday's Panorama documentary.

"How excited would you be if you were told that you'd never walk again and suddenly someone said 'Look if this goes as well as we all hope there's a real possibility," his father said.

Nicholls' search for effective treatment led him to neuroscientist Professor Geoffrey Raisman at the Institute of Neurology at University College London.

Following work on rats, Prof Raisman was convinced transplanting cells from a patient's own olfactory bulb into the damaged spinal cord could enable severed nerve fibres to re-grow.

Dr Pawel Tabakow from the Wroclaw Medical University in Poland then devised an operation that combined the olfactory cells with peripheral nerve strips to provide a "bridge" between stumps of the spinal cord.

The procedure has been carried out on Bulgarian patient Darek whose spine was severed in 2010.

Darek has now regained some bladder and bowel control, some sexual function, some sensation and motoneuron function.

"Where he was flatlined, not doing anything, he's now walking," Nicholls said.

"Nobody in history has ever reconnected two ends of a separated spinal cord and the scientists have done that."

Prof Raisman thinks the breakthrough will enable people who are currently paralysed to gain a considerable amount of mobility.

"This is the first time a patient has been able to regenerate severed long spinal nerve fibres across an injury and resume movement and feeling," he said.

"I believe we have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury which will get patients out of wheel chairs."

But Prof Raisman cautions that the results need to be confirmed, which could take up to five years.

The Polish team that worked on Darek will now operate on another two or three patients and hopefully improve the procedure.

If successful it could then be established at other neurosurgery centres throughout the world "and rolled out", Prof Raisman told AAP.

But more funds are needed.

"We are not at the top of a mountain - we're at the bottom of one," he said.

"We stand on the threshold of a historic advance and the continuation of our work will be of major benefit to mankind."

The team's research is published in Cell Transplantation on Tuesday.

Copyright AAP 2014.


Thanks, you've subscribed!

Share this free subscription offer with your friends

Email to a Friend

  • Remaining Characters: 500