Professor Geoffrey Raisman, who grew up in Leeds, pioneered a new method of treating injuries previously thought to be incurable.
The treatment was successfully tested on Polish firefighter Darek Fidyka, who learnt to walk after being paralysed from the waist down after being stabbed with a knife seven years ago.
Cells from the 38-year-old’s nose were used to re-grow cells in his spine foht6ra.
Professor Michael Hanna, director of the UCL Institute of Neurology, paid tribute to his colleague in a statement on the university’s website.
He said: “Geoffrey Raisman was a true pioneer of spinal cord injury science and a world leader in this area.
“He was deeply committed to translating his science to benefit patients. He leaves a lasting research legacy and a very active group continuing his work.
“We were all very proud to have him as a colleague at UCL and at the Institute of Neurology; he will be greatly missed.”
Speaking about his research in 2014, Professor Raisman, who was chair of neural regeneration at the institute, said: “It is immensely gratifying to see that years of research have now led to the development of a safe technique for transplanting cells into the spinal cord.
“I believe we stand on the threshold of a historic advance and that the continuation of our work will be of major benefit to mankind.
“I believe we have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury that will get patients out of wheelchairs. Our goal now is to develop this first procedure to a point where it can be rolled out as a worldwide general approach.”
In an interview with the JC, Prof Raisman said he got his drive to succeed from growing up in a working class Jewish family. He insisted his Lithuanian family’s struggle to make ends meet kept him grounded while the world praised him for his medical breakthrough.
Prof Raisman said: “My life has been worth living. I have not only been able to follow my hobby, but it has been of value to people. Who can ask for more?”
He also wrote a book about his life. The Undark Sky: A Story of Four Poor Brothers tells how his family settled in Leeds, where he later became a member of Chapeltown Road New Synagogue.
It is not yet known how the 77-year-old died.