MORE than a dozen completely paralysed adults can now write, feed themselves and even drive thanks to “life-changing” surgery.
All 13 patients were tetraplegic – unable to move their hands, arms or legs – following back injuries in their 20s.
1 Steve Pekris, 27, lost movement in his legs and hands after landing on his neck when a somersault went wrong in 2014
Now they can all carry out everyday tasks, such as brush their hair and use computers, after surgeons connected nerves above and below the spinal break.
After two years of physical therapy, their paralysed arm and hand muscles were “reanimated”.
Researchers said the Australian trial, published in The Lancet, was a “major advance”.
The breakthrough will give fresh hope to 40,000 Brits who can no longer walk after irreversible back injuries.
Campaigners said the early research was “exciting”.
Steve Pekris, 27, lost movement in his legs and hands after landing on his neck when a somersault went wrong in 2014.
But now he is in his last year of a degree in architectural drafting, thanks to the revolutionary “nerve transfer” surgery.
The former carpenter, from Melbourne, said: “I wouldn’t be able to do three quarters of the things I can do now without the surgery – basic things like drive a car, get dressed and write.’IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE’
“There is no chance at all that I could be at uni and working towards a degree without nerve transfer surgery.
“It has changed my life.”
The trial involved 16 people with an average age of 27, who suffered spinal cord damage in the previous 18 months – mostly playing sports or in a traffic accident.
In total, medics completed 59 nerve transfers.
For ten people the ops were a success, but they failed in three patients.
Lead researcher Dr Natasha van Zyl from Austin Health in Melbourne, said: “We believe that nerve transfer surgery offers an exciting new option, offering individuals with paralysis the possibility of regaining arm and hand functions to perform everyday tasks, and giving them greater independence and the ability to participate more easily in family and work life.”
The team say more research is needed to identify those most likely to benefit from the technique, but said it should be performed within a year of paralysis.
Alex Rankin, from spinal injury charity Aspire, said: “We are excited by this new research and will be watching the developments with interest.
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“However, it’s important to recognise that this was a small study and that there was not a successful outcome for all participants.”
Professor Tara Spires-Jones, Deputy Director at the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at Edinburgh University, said: “This study is important because the results add to the existing studies confirming functional improvements with nerve transfers over the more commonly used tendon transfer.
“The improvement in function will make a big difference for people with tetraplegia but it is not a complete “cure” for this type of paralysis as complete, normal function is not restored.”
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