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David Nicholls's spinal charity to feature on BBC One's Panorama tonight

21 October 2014 by
David Nicholls's spinal charity to feature on BBC One's Panorama tonight

The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF), founded by David Nicholls, director of food and beverage for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, after his son was left paralysed from the arms down following a swimming accident in 2003, will feature on BBC One's Panorama tonight.

Pioneering work carried out by a UK research team led by Professor Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology, has resulted in a paralysed man being able to walk again after cells from his nasal cavity were transplanted into his spinal cord.

Darek Fidyka, who was left paralysed from the chest down after a knife attack four years ago, is now able to walk with the support of a frame.
Professor Raisman told the BBC that the treatment, a world first and carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London, was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".

According to the BBC, in the first of two operations, surgeons removed one of the patient's olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture. Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. MRI scans since the treatment suggests that the gap in the spinal cord has closed.

The trailblazing research was supported by the NSIF and the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF). To date, the NSIF has given £1m to fund the research in London and a further £240,000 to aid the work in Poland. The BBC report states that none of those involved in the research want to profit from it.

Two years after Dan's accident, Nicholls told The Caterer: "When you are hit with a situation like this there can be one of two reactions: one is to give up and not cope; the other is to do something about it. "I guess there's a third: to accept it. Well I accept it, but only for the time being. I do not accept this is permanent. Ten years ago it would have been permanent, but there's so much development now."

In 2005, Nicholls, who trained as a chef, self-published the cookery book Off Duty with contributions from more than 50 chefs including Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, Albert and Michel Roux and Thomas Keller. Gala dinners, supported by Nicholls' chef and industry friends, continue to raise funds for the NSIF.

In his article in The Caterer in 2005, he said: "I have said to Dan a number of times, we're playing a game of cards and we've got a shitty hand - we've got one of the worst hands you could have - but we've got two choices, we can either play it or we can throw the cards back in the middle.

If we throw the cards back in the middle, that's the end of the game. So we've got to play, and you know what, we're going to play it so well we're going to get a result.

"The vision is Daniel, the vision is crystal clear of Daniel walking again and I hope that when that happens I have a feeling of elation. There may be an equal risk that you have a feeling of hurt and depression then, because it might allow you time to reflect. But at the moment, we don't have time for reflection, we have an agenda.

"Going back to that of game cards, there are people around this table who have hands worse than ours. But there are good cards out there for us, I just know that. People in the medical world are united in telling us a breakthrough will occur."

• Panorama's To Walk Again is on Tuesday 21 October at 22:35 BST on BBC One.David's mission >>

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