Sometimes Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) results in tetraplegia – partial or total loss of control of limbs and torso. In these cases, nerve transfer surgery offers great potential for improving hand mobility, but this procedure is new and process by which candidates are selected requires further fine-tuning.

In nerve transfer surgery, surgeons select a donor nerve (one that is still working and close to the damaged nerve, but less importantin purpose) and connect it to the damaged nerve in order to restore a more important hand function.

This procedure can result in significant improvement in upper limb function within 18 months of surgery which in turn greatly improves the patient's potential for employment, independence, and significantly reduces carer costs.

There is currently no clear criteria around the selection of patients for this surgery.

Patients are chosen based on muscle tests that may not be accurate indicators of injury, and therefore cannot predict whether surgery is likely to succeed.

Professor Mary Galea from The University of Melbourne's Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences is leading a team to address this issue.

Her team will conduct detailed clinical, physiological, and histological investigations of 15 patients undergoing never transfer surgery at Austin Health, and then evaluate their surgery outcomes against this information.

The ultimate objective of the research is to refine the criteria by which candidates are selected for this surgery, and thus improveits rates of success.

Where to now?

This research is ongoing. Watch this space for updates.

Meanwhile, please read a case study detailing Joel's experience with this surgery (pictured below).

Joel Royal Talbot Small