Touching Lives - March 2004
Treating nerve injuries
Many types of injury to the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord) can be repaired surgically and it is important to follow-up the patient’s recovery and determine the outcome of the surgery.
Because few nerve injuries are identical and there is little agreement on the best approach for diagnosing and treating nerve injuries, current management is very variable. As a result of this, there is very little clear information to suggest how such injuries should be treated.
Thanks to more than £159,000 of funding from Action Medical Research, a team at the University of Edinburgh has developed two new tests which could be used to assess the extent of nerve injuries and to measure nerve recovery after surgery.
^Such a strategy will ultimately improve the way that nerve injuries are treated^. Honorary Consultant Mr Michael Glasby headed the three-year study, which used carefully selected models of the main types of nerve injury and followed them up after surgical repair.
The new techniques use extremely sensitive methods of measuring the electrical impulses as they travel along the nerves. The research team showed that their techniques were accurate, reproducible and clinically practical — meaning that they could be used in Outpatients Departments. Their successful work will be of considerable value in the future, but further work and tests are needed first.
In addition, the research team used a new method of repairing nerves which involved ‘biodegradable wraps’ to hold the damaged nerves in place. They found that using the wraps proved just as effective as conventional nerve repair surgery.
This exciting finding has enormous potential in developing countries, and could also save the NHS money as no special equipment or training in microsurgery is needed.
Michael Glasby said, “^Nerve injuries are fortunately rare but always severely debilitating^. There has been considerable progress over the last fifty years but even now repaired nerves never recover anything like normal function — a great deal more has to be learnt. Action Medical Research, by supporting these avenues of research, is contributing significantly to the advancement of peripheral nerve surgery.”