People who were left paralysed by traumatic spinal damage have regained the use of their hands and the ability to perform daily tasks through a pioneering nerve transfer technique.
Surgeons in Australia have successfully performed the operation in 13 young adults who were paralysed in both their arms and legs (tetraplegia) before their surgery.
By detaching active nerves from muscles in the shoulder or elsewhere in the upper arm, the nerve ending can be attached to “reanimate” paralysed forearm muscles, restoring grip in the hand, wrist control and elbow extension.
After two years of intensive physiotherapy, participants were able to write, apply make up, handle money, and perform other tasks requiring fine motor skills that vastly improve their quality of life.
“I have one patient where it wasn’t just life changing, it was life saving,” Dr Natasha van Zyl from Austin Health Hospital in Melbourne, who led the research, told The Independent.
“He had decided if [nerve transfer] didn’t make a big enough difference he was going to check out.
“Luckily it did make a difference, he is back at work, taking his child out to the movies. He would have been dead otherwise.”