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Cell transplants help reverse paralysis

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Patients are feeling a sensation of hope

Robert Smith, 46, of Harrison Township underwent a Chinese procedure to help him regain movement.

The first American spinal cord patient to undergo a fetal cell transplant procedure — a Harrison Township man paralyzed in a Lake St. Clair diving accident — is regaining some movement and sensation a month after the experimental operation in China.

“I have normal sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t felt in four years,” said Robert Smith, 46, a one-time Chevy car salesman paralyzed from the chest down on July 4, 1999, when he dove off his boat into water that was more shallow than he thought.

Last month, Smith and two other Americans from New York and South Dakota went to Beijing for an experimental technique called olfactory ensheathing glia cell transplant.

It takes cells from the olfactory nerve above the ridge of the nose and injects them above and below a person’s injury site. The olfactory cells are some of the only nerve cells in the body capable of continually regenerating themselves. They help coat, or ensheath, Myelin that covers nerve cells, hence the name.

Dr. Hongyun Huang, the Chinese neurosurgeon who developed the technique, uses more than 1 million cells from aborted fetuses for each transplant.


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