Aust surgery restores hand movement

Thirteen Australian patients with complete paralysis can now perform everyday tasks after pioneering nerve surgery restored movement in their elbows and hands.

Pioneering surgery by an Australian team has restored movement in the hands and elbows of thirteen patients with complete paralysis.

In an article published in The Lancet, researchers called it a "major advance" in restoring hand and arm function.

Some 59 nerve transfers were completed in 16 people with an average age of 27, who suffered spinal cord damage to the neck less than 18 months previously in accidents largely involving traffic or sport.

Surgeons attached nerves connected to working muscles above the spinal injury to nerves attached to the paralysed muscle below it.

The working nerves were then able to "reanimate" the paralysed muscle in people with tetraplegia, the paralysis of the upper and lower limbs.

After two years of physical therapy, the young adults were able to reach their arm out, open and close their hand and pick up objects.

They can now feed themselves, brush their teeth and hair, put on makeup, write, use tools and handle money.

Dr Natasha van Zyl from Austin Health in Melbourne, who led the research, said: "For people with tetraplegia, improvement in hand function is the single most important goal.

The surgery did not work in three people, with two participants experiencing a permanent decrease in sensation and two a temporary decrease in wrist strength which was resolved by surgery.

The team say more research is needed to identify who is most likely to benefit from the technique.

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