Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Doctors in Australia are to use a revolutionary technique to try to cure patients who are paralysed from the waist down.
Dr Alan Mackay-Sim of Griffith University in Brisbane and colleagues believe that cells from inside the nose can be used to treat patients who are paralysed.
Laboratory tests have suggested that injecting the cells, called olfactory ensheathing cells, into a patient's spine can reverse the damage.
They are recruiting eight people to take part in a clinical trial to see if their theory works.
The theory is that the nose cells provide a bridge to enable spinal nerves to grow.
Normally, when spinal cord nerve fibres are broken they never regrow, which is why people who break their spines in accidents can be disabled for life.
The cells connect the nose with the brain and allow people to smell. Unlike most other body cells, they regenerate throughout life.
Previous studies on rats have suggested that these cells can reverse paralysis.
Tests on some animals have shown that they can regain control of their hind legs after receiving these injections.
However, in most of these cases the cells had been extracted from inside the skull, which would be unsuitable for humans.
There have also been concerns that scientists would be unable to remove a sufficient number of cells to use to repair a damaged spine.
But Dr Mackay-Sim and colleagues believe they have overcome those difficulties.
They have been unable to remove the cells under local anaesthetic and then grown them in a laboratory.
They have enrolled three patients in their trial and have plans to recruit a further five.
Half the patients will receive a spinal injection of their nasal cells as part of the study.
Dr Tim Geraghty, director of the spinal injuries unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, said that while the technique may not completely cure patients it could significantly improve their condition.
"Even if people could get back some sensation around their bottom and legs, that would be extremely helpful in preventing bedsores.
"A step up would be an improvement in bladder or bowel or sexual function."
© MMII, BBC