An innovative new surgery coming out of Australia involves relocating nerves and has paralyzed patients regaining usage in their hands.
Paul Robinson is an Australian resident that had a bike accident in 2015. It left him paralyzed from the chest down and wheelchair bound. He landed on his head and broke a vertebrae in his neck.
Robinson was one of 16 people participating in a medical trial in Melbourne. The trial uses nerve transfers to re-enervate paralyzed muscles in quadriplegic patients.
Another participant was a young man who previously ran three companies. He was paralyzed in a tragic boating accident. Dr. Natasha van Zyl, the lead surgeon for the trials, said “he had decided that he would try this surgery, but if it didn’t work he was going to exit–he didn’t want to live any more.”
After the surgery, he was able to start working from home again and even take his family to the movies.
Tendon transfers have been used to restore functionality to paralyzed limbs. These worked by transplanting working muscles to take over the function lost due to the paralyzed tissue, and it never actually restored function to the muscle. This new technique routes functioning nerves into the paralyzed muscle. This basically sends the signals to another part of the spinal cord.
This technique was performed as far back at 1962, however the technique never received much attention until recently. Van Zyl acknowledges her team did not create the procedures but explains that nobody has used it extensively until now.
Out of a total of 59 nerve transfer on 13 patients that completed the study, all of them experienced improvement in hand function.