i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet


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The Independent Online

The tale of the paralysed man who was able to walk again features in each of the four New Testament gospels. Jesus invited the fellow to (I paraphrase) get up and walk – and he does. Cue general amazement.

It has taken scientists 2,000 years longer – but the same story features on the cover of today’s i. In an astonishing breakthrough, a team of medics from University College London has, with Polish surgeons, given a former firefighter paralysed from the chest down the ability to walk again.

The man’s severed spinal cord has been “bridged”: regenerative  human cells taken from his nose were implanted at the site of the injury, where they grew and restored the nerve fibre link to each side of the break. The 40-year-old man can now walk with a frame and drive.

Further research must be completed before we can say that one of the greatest challenges in medical science has been met. I wrote two weeks ago on the dangers of newspapers giving readers false hope about, say, a “cancer cure” or a  supposed wonder drug to treat MS.

The next step is for the medics to repeat and refine the technique: they need £10m to fund surgery for 10 more patients.

As if all of this wasn’t remarkable enough, a British chef helped to fund the research through a charity he set up, after his son was paralysed on a gap year. For that man, David Nicholls, and his son Dan, hope counts. “This information is being made available to researchers around the world,” Mr Nicholls said yesterday, “so that together we can fight to finally find a cure for this condition which robs  people of their lives.”


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