“Caution needed over ‘breakthrough’ on spinal cord injuries”

Mike Mackenzie
Mike Mackenzie

Whilst the news of a paralysed man walking is seemingly wonderful news for all 40,000 of us with a spinal cord injury (SCI), the media concentrate on this visual aspect as being the breakthrough of a seemingly incurable medical condition.

A picture is worth a thousand words but never discloses the concealed core problems.

Spinal Cord Injury was described by Sir Ludwig Guttmann as ‘one of the most devastating calamities of human life’.

When one is first aware of one’s paralysis it comes as a very unwelcome shock and surprise to find it does not just mean you cannot walk.

Unless you have been very directly involved with someone with an SCI, you have no knowledge of what to expect.

Everyone knows that walking is almost certainly not an option but how many know the hidden effects of a SCI?

The loss of bowel and bladder control, the loss of sensation, often resulting in pressure ulcers, and loss of sexual function are all the devastating hidden horrors of your future life.

It is the sincere wish of almost all of those with an SCI to have the restoration of these basic and vital functions.

Not being able to walk becomes more of an inconvenience than a major loss and is compensated for by the technology of modern wheelchairs.

This ‘cure’ may be the advance we have been hoping for but, before getting over optimistic, it is only one spinal cord that has been possibly ‘mended’. Until there are further clinical tests and confirmation we should be cautious.

My spinal consultant, Mr Fadel Derry at Stoke Mandeville, has said that the late Prof Carlos Lima in Portugal carried out exactly the same operation of Olfactory nerve cell transplants on several patients in a major research project 10 years ago funded by a large grant from the US department of health.

The results were published in scientific journals.

Unfortunately all published results and repeat operations proved disappointing.

I have no wish to dampen the excitement of those with a SCI, especially newly injured people or to devalue the incredible work of Prof Geoff Raisman but, whilst being elated by the news, caution should be the watchword at this stage.