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Professor George Bittner from the University of Texas has just published his findings on experiments in rats that suggests that surgeons in the not too distant future may be able to talk about nerve regeneration in a matter of days to weeks, instead of the current scenario where we talk of months to years.
In humans, a nerve is made up of thousands of tiny fibres called axons which are the main wiring system of the body, and when a nerve is cut these axons are severed too and no electrical impulses can travel up or down them leading to paralysis of the limb on the "far side" of the injury. When the axon is cut, the bit on the "far side" of the cut degenerates and so does the bit on the near side until it reaches it's main nerve cell at which point it then starts to regenerate at approximately 1mm per day. As you can imagine, if you cut a nerve nerve high up in the leg, it's going to take at least the length of of leg (in mms, converted into days) to recover. But apparently in invertebrates, the distal - or the "far side" - of the axon doesn't degenerate, and so in their experiments on rats, Prof Bittner and his colleagues used a variety of solutions that "seal" the distal nerve and stop it from degenerating. They then found that movement to the affected limb returned within a week and functional activity within 2 to 3 weeks - astounding results when compared with current treatment.
The next step is to get permissions to use this knowledge in ethical human trials.