The UK’s Daily Mail Online has a really interesting story though lacking a few vital details about breakthrough surgery to restore movement and feeling in limbs for those that have been paralyzed by a severed nerve. The procedure starts with taking sections of nerve cells from deceased donors. The nerve cells are treated with enzymes to clean them up, sterilized and frozen, reducing the risk that they will be rejected when grafted to the patient. The surgery itself is described like it is outpatient with one small incision and no general anesthesia. Without this new procedure, doctors had to perform much more complex nerve tissue grafts taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body.
At the time of the surgery, the patient’s damaged nerve area is sliced out like a bad section of rope. The donated sections are spliced to the size needed to fit the section cut out as a bridge to the patient’s healthy nerve endings. The donated section is connected into the patient’s nerve endings with a stitch. What’s really interesting is that the transplanted nerve section is naturally porous in nature and only acts as a scaffold that allows the patient’s own nerve endings to grow again until the two sides connect together. The nerve can grow at a rate of about one millimeter each day, (about 25.4mm equals 1 inch) so recovery is somewhat dependent on how big a section was replaced. The trial is apparently going on worldwide though the Daily Mail reports that the procedure has so far been carried out on 24 patients with complex nerve injuries in the hands or arms at NHS hospitals in Birmingham. While the article states that doctors following the trial are very impressed with the results so far and the reporter did actually interview a couple of patients with very successful outcomes, there are no statistics yet on the overall success of the procedure.