A 71-year-old man who was paralysed in a 2008 car accident has regained motor function in his hands thanks to Washington University doctors who rewired his nerves to bypass the damaged ones. Though the patient could move his arms, he had lost the ability to pinch and grab with his fingers. Until now, that is.
According to the BBC (who themselves culled the news from the Journal of Neurosurgery), say that a healthy nerve whose path led to an arm muscle was taken an attached to the anterior interosseous nerve, which leads to the hand.
Ida Fox, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, told the BBC: “The circuit [in the hand] is intact, but no longer connected to the brain.
“What we do is take that circuit and restore the connection to the brain.”
After eight months of training, the patient is now capable of picking up utensils and even writing a little. The medical staff expects the patients abilities to improve but don’t believe he’ll regain full function of his hands, and definitely not his legs.
Still, this is potentially a glimpse into a future where more complex techniques and breakthroughs could someday lead to restoring movement and feeling all over the body. And that’s what make’s today’s announcement so exciting. [Journal of Neurosurgery via BBC]