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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 05:44 GMT 06:44 UK
Spinal injury 'repairs' on trial
Hywel Griffith
BBC Wales health correspondent

Paul Andre Blundell was injured in a rugby game
The charity was set up in memory of Paul Andre Blundell
Trials are to begin on the first patients as part of cell research which could help thousands of people paralysed in accidents.

Welsh charity Trust PA has helped to fund scientists who hope to repair the spinal cord by transferring cells from the nose to make it grow back.

If successful, the treatment could mean patients taking back control of their bodies.

The research is being carried out by the Institute of Neurology in London.

Simon Morris, from Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan, has been learning to rebuild his life since an accident 10 years ago left him paralysed from the chest down.

To have it all taken away in an instant - it was a lot to take in
Simon Morris

A simple fall while on holiday in Greece was enough to damage his spine. He spent 16 months in hospital, and now depends on a wheelchair.

"I was in the Navy prior to my accident so I was quite active. I enjoyed a very good social life, " said Mr Morris.

"To have it all taken away in an instant - it was a lot to take in.

"Increasing my mobility would be brilliant. Any little gain, any slight gain would mean a great deal for me - not just for me, but for other people with spinal injuries."

Animal models

At the moment, there is no treatment for Mr Morris' injuries.

But Professor Geoffrey Raisman, from the Institute of Neurology, have found that cells found in the nose can be transplanted to the spinal cord to help it re-grow.

So far, tests have been on animals but Professor Raisman said they were now ready for trials with humans.

"We've got to the point where in animal models - in rats - we can get these cells from the adult," he said.

"We can transplant them into injuries of the spinal cord, of the spinal root, and the nerve fibres grow back and function returns.

"Now, what we're trying to do is to transfer this to human application," he added.

'Important things'

"The stage we're at we already know, and others have shown, that these cells are present in humans.

"We are trying to learn how to grow them from what is actually volunteer samples and then we hope to transplant them into a group of highly-defined injuries in 10 to 12 patients."

The research is expensive and is being helped by a small Welsh charity.

Trust PA was set up in memory of Paul Andre (PA) Blundell, a rugby player from Cardiff, who was paralysed after an accident on the pitch.

After his death five years ago, his parents decided to put their efforts into supporting research to repair the spinal cord.

His mother Gerri Blundell said: "We have the most amazing hope because the work of Geoffrey Raisman has 40 years of research behind it."

"As far as Paul Andre was concerned, for him it was a chance that he would possibly walk again before he was 40.

"He thought that was worth going for and I think in terms of other families, that hope is one of the most important things to give them something to live for at all."

Developing the treatment could still take years, but the fund-raising will help the research.

This has including raising money at events such as last weekend's British speedway grand prix at the Millennium Stadium.

"Injuries of the spinal cord and stroke...are incurable because they damange nerve fibres."

'Broken back' in last rugby game
23 Apr 07 |  North West Wales


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