When a nerve is injured, it's often hard to get it to regrow fast enough to restore function.
But now researchers say they can speed up that process, so that damaged nerves can be healed in days instead of months — at least in rats.
The scientists say they've developed a technique that reconnects the severed ends of a nerve, allowing it to begin carrying messages again very quickly. Usually, severed nerves must regrow from the point of injury — a process that can take months, if it ever happens.
This might eventually help the more than 50,000 people a year in the U.S. who suffer nerve injuries that leave them unable to use a particular muscle or without feeling in part of their body.
"It's exciting," says Wesley Thayer, a plastic surgeon at Vanderbilt, and a co-author of the study.
Thayer says these peripheral nerve injuries are caused by everything from car crashes to gunshot wounds. But he says many of them happen when somebody does something careless in the kitchen.