Doctors in the United States have made a surgical breakthrough that could one-day help millions of people around the world who have been paralyzed from automotive accidents or other spinal cord injuries. When people are paralyzed and lose the function of their legs and arms, nerve damage is typically the culprit. A team of US doctors were able to give a man who was paralyzed in a car accident four years ago limited use of his hands after rewiring nerves in his arms.
The physicians took healthy nerves from the man’s body and used those nerves to bridge the damaged nerves and rewire the man’s nervous system. The groundbreaking surgery was performed by surgeons at Washington University’s school of medicine, and the operation could be a breakthrough for some people suffering from spinal cord injury. The man the surgery was performed on is a 71-year-old who broke his neck in a car crash in 2008.
Prior to the surgery, the man had limited use of his arms, but he had lost the ability to grasp or hold things in either hand. The surgeons used the healthy nerves above the spinal breakage and connected those healthy nerves to the anterior interosseous nerve in the forearm that controls hand movement. After surgery, the men underwent physical therapy, and began to move his thumb and fingers of the left hand eight months after the surgery, and could move fingers on the right hand 10 months after the surgery.
“To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of thumb and finger flexor reinnervation after a spinal cord injury. While the results in this patient are usually modest, due to the severe joint stiffness, his function has improved significantly with his ability to feed himself,” the team writes in the Journal of Neurosurgery.