Developing an olfactory cell therapy for spinal cord injury



The olfactory system—or sense of smell—is unique in mammals in that its nerve cells are able to constantly regenerate. It’s the only part of our nervous system that regenerates  very single day as part of its normal function. And it’s lucky that it does: every time we breathe in, the nerve cells in our nose are exposed to the bacteria and toxins and get killed off. If these didn’t regenerate, humans would lose their sense of smell in around a month.

Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are crucial to this process of regeneration. They prevent scarring and protect and guide the growing nerve cells.

A collection of OECs grown in 2D culture
A collection of OECs grown in 2D culture

Olfactory cell transplantation to repair spinal cord injury:


Role of olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) described

 OECs are first described as being crucial to nerve cell regeneration.


First use of OEC transplantation in animals 

The first studies are released in Spain and

Britain showing cells could be taken from

the nose and put into the spinal cord of

animals and stimulate regeneration.


First transplant of OECs into the human

spinal cord 

Griffith University’s GRIDD commences

their Phase I Clinical Trial showing that

the procedure of transplanting cells was safe.


OEC cellular therapy research

in dogs 

University of Cambridge released a study of olfactory cell transplantation into

dogs with spinal cord injury and showed

regeneration in some of them.


OEC therapy shows success

in a human *

Professor Geoffrey Raisman (UK) undertakes olfactory cell transplantation into Polish firefighter

Darek Fidyka, restoring some motor and

sensory function.


Spinal injury project

Queensland Government awarding

$5 m for a 3-year preclinical development

project at GRIDD & MHIQ for an OEC

cellular therapy.


*The human trial in 2014 demonstrated partial regeneration, despite several limitations in the therapy.

By improving the purification and preparation of cells prior to transplantation, dramatically improved outcomes

could be achieved. Proving this hypothesis is the aim of the Phase I/IIa clinical trial.