A new technique to repair severed nerves could help patients to recover the use of normal functions in days or weeks.
Researchers at the University of Texas have conducted studies into the mechanisms all animal cells used to repair membrane damage, focusing on invertebrates due to their ability to regenerate nerve axons much faster than mammals.
By applying the same process to rats, it was found that severed sciatic nerves in the upper thigh could be repaired within minutes, allowing the test subjects to regain almost full limb use within weeks.
Currently, nerve repair procedures can take months or years to work, restoring only limited functionality, with researcher Professor George Bittner saying the new method could produce a "transformational change" in treatment methodologies.
"The sciatic nerve controls all muscle movement of the leg of all mammals and this new approach to repairing nerve axons could almost certainly be just as successful in humans," he added.
Currently, recovery times following nerve injuries are extremely long, requiring extensive therapy and sensory re-education even after the nerve has recovered.