Professor Raisman was one of the first neuroscientists whose work in stem cell research has raised the real possibility that spinal cord injuries, long considered incurable, could be repaired. The work of the team holds out significant hope that spinal cord patients will eventually be able to regain much of the ability to move that they have lost. For paraplegic patients this could lead to a return of sensation and movement to some leg muscles, potentially allowing them to stand and making movement easier, while tetraplegics (patients with spinal injury high in the neck region), could recover touch sensation and movement of the hands, and regain the ability to dress, feed and clean independently.
Professor Raisman's key discovery was that there is one part of the nervous system, a region in the nasal cavity concerned with the sense of smell, in which nerve fibres are in a state of continuous growth throughout adult life. Working at the National Institute for Medicial Research in London, Raisman's team transplanted cells from this region into the injured spinal cord of laboratory rats, and found that the cells had a remarkable capacity to integrate into damaged pathways, laying a 'bridge' over the gap in the nerve fibres caused by injury.
The team has now moved to UCL to attempt to transfer that technology from rats to humans, working with patients at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery
Contact: Dominique Fourniol
University College London