Man can grip a ball after nerve rewiring  (Source: Washington University)
Researchers connected undamaged nerves to damaged nerves in order to help a patient regain movement in his hands

Washington University researchers have managed to rewire the nerves of a paralyzed patient, allowing him to use his hands again.

Ida Fox, case study leader and assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, along with a team of researchers, have connected undamaged nerves to damaged nerves in order to help a patient regain movement in his hands.

A 71-year-old male patient was in a car accident in 2008 that crushed the C7 vertebrae in his spinal cord. This allowed for some movement in his elbows, shoulders and arms, but completely cut off communication between brain signals and hand movements, meaning that his hands were paralyzed.

To solve this problem, Fox and the team of researchers decided to use nerve transfer therapy. This means that nearby nerves that had not been injured in the accident could be cut, connected to a damaged nerve, and then used to stimulate activity in the hands again.

To do this, Fox cut an undamaged nerve that was responsible for the brachialis, which is an arm muscle that helps bend the elbow. This nerve was reattached to the damaged nerve responsible for hand movement, and this was enough to activate small movement in the patient's hands once again. However, the patient had to relearn how to use the nerve in a different way over time.

"The brain has to be trained to think, 'OK, I used to bend my elbow with this nerve, and now I use it to pinch,'" said Fox. "We're not changing any of the biomechanics; we're just changing the wiring. So it's more of a mental game that patients have to play with themselves."

As it turns out, the patient was able to write a little bit and feed himself after months of physical therapy.

This method of nerve rewiring could be used to treat patients with C7 and C6 vertebra injuries because the nerves are attached to the spinal cord directly above the injury. However, those with C5 to C1 vertebra injuries could not benefit from such a surgery because of the location of the nerves.

Source: Medical Daily

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