Innovative surgery fixes arm function of paralyzed patients

Shanghai doctors have developed an innovative arm surgery to help stroke patients with limb paralysis and children with cerebral palsy. It has received international recognition.

Shanghai doctors have developed an innovative arm surgery to help stroke patients with limb paralysis and children suffering from cerebral palsy. It changes the part of the brain that controls movement in an arm.

Limb functions are controlled by opposite brain hemispheres. That means a stroke on the left side of the brain can cause disability on the right side of the body.

The new surgery connects the nerves of a paralyzed arm to the healthy brain hemisphere on the same side of the body.

After the surgery, doctors who pioneered the breakthrough at Huashan Hospital said they found a new function zone created inside the healthy hemisphere, allowing both arms to function separately.

The procedure is still in clinical trials. The findings were published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s most prestigious reviews of medical research and discoveries.

In China, there are at least 23 million people suffering from limb paralysis as a result of brain injuries, strokes or cerebral palsy. Up to 60 percent of stroke patients have difficulty using their paralyzed hands, which can seriously affect the quality of their lives.

“About 90 percent of patients who have undergone the surgery show good results, and over half had very positive improvement in mobility functions,” said Dr Xu Wendong, a leading expert in the study. “Our next plan is expand our research to patients with paralyzed legs.”

A 21-year-old woman, with left-arm disability due to cerebral palsy, had the surgery at Huashan Hospital and was pleasantly surprised at the major improvement in her arm functions as a result.

“I can use my paralyzed left arm to take things by myself and take care of myself without my mother’s help now,” said the patient surnamed Zhao. “I am very happy.”

According to Dr Gui Yonghao, vice president of Fudan University, the surgery also provides important new information on the functioning of the brain.

A conclusion Dr Gu Yudong, another top specialist who was part of the study, agrees with. He said that the surgery is pioneering because it found that the brain hemisphere can control both the arm on the same side and the one opposite.

“It means that our brain has a big potential and can fulfill the function, which is impossible in our opinion, after training. It can provide more ideas on the current research on brain science,” Gu added.

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