Friday, February 10, 2012

New form of surgery can prevent paralysis

Damage to nerves is often irreparable, due to insufficient repair mechanisms of our body. Trauma, such as a car crash, can result in extensive impairment of bodily functions if a nerve system gets damaged. People become paralysed, for example, never to walk again. Usually, there is not much we can do, but a new surgical technique developed by Vanderbilt University may improve the chances that patients have of recovery. Though, doctors will need to act fast after a patient suffers his or her injury.

Joining ends
Often, when a nerve is damaged, a cut prevents signal conduction, much like a telephone wire that has been  snapped. That means the brain and, lets say, a limb cannot communicate with each other any more. It results in the inability to send signals to limbs in order to tell it to move.Likewise the limb is unable to tell the brain what it is feeling. The Vanderbilt University scientists have found a way to effectively reconnect the nerves, to restore communication and functionality.

In an experimental procedure performed on rats, the researchers used a substance called PEG, to glue the two parts back together. It is not the first time surgeons try to reconnect nerves, and the procedure often fails or is ineffective. That's because the body seals off damaged nerves by putting a cap on the damaged end, which impairs signal conduction even if the two nerve ends are joined back up again. Why the body seals off damaged nerves is unknown, but it does appear that there is no proper repair mechanism to restore their functionality.

At the Vanderbilt University, they discovered the mechanism that allows caps to be added to damaged nerves. It is possible to prevent that from happening by administering some sort of salty mix to the site of injury. When the compound was administered to rats that were modelled after human nerve damage, the scientists were able to partially restore the nerve function. In their experiments, rats had a cut in the sciatic nerve, which governs communication between limb and brain. They showed the surgery technique is twice as effective in restoring nerve functionality compared with conventional surgery methods. Additionally, the recovery time is much faster.

Because all the necessary medical procedures and compounds are already being used in the clinic, it does not have to take long before the first human patients can undergo this form of nerve surgery. The scientists say they want to acquire some more safety information before starting tests with human patients. It looks promising for prospective patients with nerve damage. Existing paralysed patients are out of luck, because their method is unable to un-cap damaged nerves; administering the aforementioned salty solution only prevents capping of damaged nerve endings, it does not remove them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment