Plans are afoot next year for British surgeons to attempt to make the first repairs of spinal cord nerves using a revolutionary new stem cell technique.
The procedure, developed by Professor Geoffrey Raisman from University College London, could pave the way to helping paralysed patients walk again or restoring sight to the blind.
It involves taking stem cells from the lining of the nose and using them to create a "bridge" between the severed ends of the nerves.
Until now it has not been possible to repair the major nerves running through the spinal cord or those branching off from it.
As many as ten patients are expected to undergo the operation within the first three months of next year at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square.
All have suffered a type of injury most often seen in motorcycle accidents where nerves in the arm are pulled out of the spinal cord, which causes numbness, pain, and partial loss of movement, and never heals.
Professor Raisman, who will lead the surgical team, says the injury occurs when a blow to the shoulder pulls nerve fibres out of the spinal cord rather like pulling a plug out of a socket.
He says they will try to make the nerve fibres grow back which has not been attempted before.
If the procedure is successful it will apparently open the door to treating all kinds of connective nerve fibre conditions, including spinal injuries, the most severe kinds of stroke, and blindness and deafness caused by nerve fibre injury.
It seems Professor Raisman first identified the "olfactory ensheathing" stem cells to be used in the procedure, in 1985.
As the cells come from the patients' themselves, there is no risk of them being rejected by the immune system.
The new trial is being seen as the first step in demonstrating that the technique can work in humans.