Nerve bypass 'could end paralysis'

Thousands of people could regain the use of paralysed limbs thanks to a pioneering technique, scientists claim.

The technique uses the body's nerves to bypass spinal injuries and US researchers believe the treatment could help thousands of people to regain feeling, and possibly even the use of paralysed limbs.

The researchers have shown that nerves can be used to circumvent spinal damage and reconnect the brain to the body, according to a report in New Scientist.

The procedure, successfully used in experiments with rats, worked on similar principles to heart bypass surgery, where veins from a patient's leg are used to get around an artery blockage.

It raised the prospect of the first human trials within five years, offering hope to the 40,000-plus people in the UK with spinal cord injuries.

John Martin, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York, cut away a nerve in rats, from just above the injury, that normally stretches into the body to control abdominal muscles and reattached it to the spine below the injury.

When the team examined the nerve under a microscope two weeks later, they found it had sprouted new extensions which had begun to form connections, or synapses, with the motor nerves in the isolated lower spine.

Zapping the spinal cord above the injury made the lower limbs of the rats twitch, showing that motor signals had begun once again to pass along the entire length of the spine.

Mr Martin said: "What we want to do is plug in new connections to bypass the damaged region.

"We know the nerves can make new connections to muscle, so we asked whether it's possible for them to also connect with spinal cord neurons isolated through injury."

He told the Guardian: "What we've documented is that we've reconnected the nervous system above the injury with below the injury in a robust way.

"The hope is to try to overcome some of the paralysis."

Reconnecting a single nerve would not be sufficient to reactivate all of a patient's lost functions, and the patient would have to decide with their doctor what was most important to improve their quality of life.

Mr Martin said: "For example, in a quadriplegic with limited upper extremity mobility, increasing the strength of shoulder muscles is very helpful because that could help their transfer from a wheelchair to a bed or toilet - it gives them independence."

Patrick Anderson, professor of experimental neuroscience at University College London, told the newspaper the findings were exciting, but said there was still much research to be done before the technique could be tried in humans.

Mr Anderson, who was not involved in the research, said: "It's quite an exciting response, it's novel and no one's achieved quite that before."

Mr Martin said the technique needed much more development, but if all went well trials in humans could start in as little as five years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected