Paralysis currently affects millions of people. For many, it’s a diagnosis from which there is no return. That may not be true anymore though. A new surgery has restored a man who was paralyzed from the chest down to walking again.

The operation took cells from Darek Fidyka’s nose and placed them in his severed spine. Fidyka had suffered a complete severing of his spine after a knife attack. It was originally thought that a sever was irreparable as the neural cells would not regenerate. Fidyka is thought to be the first person in the world to have recovered from a total severing of his spinal nerves. He can now walk with the assistance of a frame, can drive a car, and is beginning to have feeling in his lower limbs again.

The procedure required the relocation of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the nose to the spinal cord. The cells normally assist with the reformation of cells used in the processing of smells and the regeneration of that ability once the cells have been damaged. They were discovered by Geoff Raisman in 1985 and shown to work in the treatment of spinal injuries in rats in 1997.

“We have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury that will get patients out of wheelchairs,” Raisman said. “Our goal now is to develop this procedure to a point where it can be rolled out as a worldwide general approach.”

The next step for the procedure is experiments and trials to see if it can be applied more broadly.