A man who had been paralyzed from the waist down and had lost all function in both his hands can move his fingers after doctors rewired his nerves to bypass the damaged ones in a pioneering surgical procedure, according to a case study published on Tuesday.
The 71-year-old man, who had become paralyzed after he was injured in a car accident in 2008, still had limited arm, elbow and shoulder movement, but because the C7 vertebrae in his spinal cord had been crushed, the nerve circuits responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles in his hands were severed and all control was lost.
However, the nearby nerves had not been injured in the accident and surgeons were able to cut an undamaged nerve in the man’s elbow and connect it to the damaged nerve responsible for activating muscles in the hand responsible for grasping objects.
“The circuit [in the hand] is intact, but no longer connected to the brain,” Surgeon Ida Fox, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, explained to the BBC. “What we do is take that circuit and restore the connection to the brain.”
Original case report in the Journal of Neurosurgery here.