Spinal Research Supports the Development of OECs

Research into spinal cord injury hit the headlines this week following the news that a paralysed man in Poland has regained the ability to walk after treatment with specialised cells taken from his nose – olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs).

Spinal Research has had a long standing interest in the development of OECs and has spent over £2 million on their development, including the work of Professor Geoffrey Raisman.

OECs are found at the back of the nose and have a remarkable capacity for repair after damage. When transplanted into a spinal cord injury, they can promote nerve regrowth.  As the patient serves as their own donor, there are no problems with rejection and a number of benefits can be observed, including improved bladder function – a priority for those living with paralysis.

Spinal Research has supported Professor Geoffrey Raisman’s work at University College London since 1986 and has long championed, through its funding, the development of OECs across the field.

Our first funding was awarded in 1999 to Professors John Riddell and Susan Barnett in Glasgow who were looking at promoting functional regeneration by grafts of OECs taken from the olfactory bulb, and to Dr Wigley from King’s College, London whose research was looking at a very similar principle.

Since 2000 we have funded several studies in Canada by Professor Jane Roskams looking at how OECs expand, migrate and stimulate rat and mouse spinal cord injury (SCI) repair.

In 2003 we funded a proof of principle study by Professors Nick Jeffery and Robin Franklin at the University of Cambridge who were looking to demonstrate the feasibility of OEC transplantation. In 2012 that study led to a breakthrough which found that pet dogs accidentally paralysed by a spinal cord injury were able to walk again after OECs were injected into their spinal cord. Watch the video here

The development of this potential treatment has been largely UK based and we have funded numerous projects with the work predominantly centred on three locations: Glasgow, Cambridge and London. Spinal Research is now looking to work with these teams to drive OECs through the final stages in preparation for a UK clinical trial.

With UK development we can ensure a controlled clinical trial setting and a treatment which is safe, effective and reliable – this needs to be demonstrated over time and after more patients have received the procedure without ill effect.

Work in this area offers great hope to those living with spinal cord injury – but there is still some way to go. Spinal Research is now working to overcome the final few hurdles and with your support, we can make it to the finish line together.

Read what our Executive & Scientific Director, Dr Mark Bacon, had to say about BBC’s Panorama programme here.

Read more about the other potential therapies we are driving to clinical trials here.