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HomeNewsParaplegic 'excited' as he joins medical trial

Paraplegic ‘excited’ as he joins medical trial

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Paraplegic Jamie Harris hopes a groundbreaking research trial into spinal injuries could see him back on his feet.

The Hamilton 26-year-old was hit by a car and paralysed five years ago. He has been confined to his bed for two years.

But Mr Harris has volunteered for a world-first trial of a treatment that will take nerve cells from his nose and put them on the site of his spinal injury.

“I’m extremely excited, not just for myself but what it could also do for a lot of other people as well,” he said.

Being wheelchair-bound had caused numerous health issues and Mr Harris needed repeated surgery to repair skin damaged from constantly sitting.

He hoped to have the trial operation early next year and was not daunted by the prospect of two years of intensive physiotherapy that would follow.

“What better to do with my life than this, so why not?” said Mr Harris, who hopes to be one of 12 young Kiwi volunteers for the treatment, which could bring feeling and muscle control to people paralysed by spinal injuries.

The procedure involves taking nerve cells from inside the nose and transplanting them to the site of the spinal cord injury – a four-hour operation – followed by a two-year physiotherapy programme.

Spinal Cord Society clinical research laboratory director Jim Faed said ethical committee approval has been given for the trial of OMA, or olfactory muscosal autotransplantation.

“The procedure has been used previously in other parts of the world with sensory improvements and improved muscle function for some patients. This will be the first comprehensive clinical trial on OMA anywhere in the world and will measure how much benefit is obtained by comparing two groups of people with spinal cord injury,” Dr Faed said.

“What makes our clinical trial a world-first is the comprehensive two years of follow-up and physio each patient will receive.”

Spinal Cord Society president Noela Vallis, who is working to raise $1 million for the trial, said it offered hope for people who were severely paralysed.

“This is a medical science, research-based procedure and it just may provide the result that we are looking for in the long-term,” she said.

New Zealand spends more than $100 million each year through ACC, hospital care and long-term support for people with spinal cord injuries.

Trial participants have to be aged 18 to 35, with complete loss of muscle control and feeling below the site of a thoracic or mid-back spinal injury, suffered between two and seven years ago.

Former Paraplegic Association president Paul Curry, who was paralysed in an accident 42 years ago, said if he was younger he would have leapt at the chance to be involved. For him, the biggest bonus of successful treatment would be restoration of normal bowel and bladder control.

“If you talk to just about any paraplegic it’s the number one thing, ahead of getting back use of legs and restoration of normal sexual function,” he said.


What does olfactory muscosal autotransplantation – OMA – involve?

Nerve cells in the nose, which have the ability to replicate themselves, are surgically removed and put along a line running from above the spinal cord injury. The procedure, first tried in Portugal, is reported to have triggered natural repair of the severed spinal cord nerves and the myelin sheath that surrounds it.

Who are candidates for the medical trial?

People aged 18 to 35 years old who have lost all feeling and muscle function below the site of a mid to upper back spinal cord injury sustained between two and seven years ago. They must be willing to do two hours of physiotherapy five days a week for two years.

What’s the payoff?

Possible restoration of some nerve and muscle function and a contribution to pioneering work that might ultimately help others crippled by spinal injury.

– The Dominion Post


  1. My 8 year old grandson became paralyzed at age 3 due to a RED Light/Texting Runner here in Arizona. Shaun has gone to Panama for a stem cell injection and shows improvement in some areas….The cost of sending him back down there is out of this world, but we feel it is very important…How can we push to get important medical things like this covered here in the USA where we live and need such help????? Thank You

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