Restoring Hand Function After Nerve Damage: An Alternative to Difficult Surgery

An Alternative to Complex Surgery

Hand nerve injuries are very common, happening in 1%-3% of trauma patients. These injuries break the connections between nerves and muscles, causing loss of movement, grip strength, and fine finger motion.

Nerve Injury and Natural Healing

With severe nerve cut injuries, the nerve endings break down and start dissolving. The remaining healthy nerve tries regrowing long arm-like parts (axons) towards the other nerve end.

At the same time, Schwann cells transform to guide new axons down Büngner cell pathways – tube structures that act like highways for axons to grow along.

But regrowth is extremely slow (1 mm daily). This allows muscle loss and axon misguidance from not reaching the right spots.

Standard Nerve Repair Methods and Challenges

The standard treatment is surgically reconnecting nerve ends using stitches or glue. But wide gaps bigger than a few centimeters need nerve grafts to physically bridge the gap so there’s no pulling tension, which can disrupt healing.

While grafts let axons cross gaps, they inherently cause problems at donor sites. There’s also risks of rejection for non-self grafts and suboptimal nerve regrowth.

Promise of Cell Therapy for Nerve Healing Without Surgery

Recently, cell-based regenerative therapies have shown great promise for regrowing damaged arm and hand nerves without grafts’ problems. Stem cells can turn into nerve support cells and stimulate healing without relying solely on transplants.

Their diverse healing abilities make them ideal to inject with nerve guidance structures. Together, they recreate suitable environments enabling nerve connections to restore function.

Useful Stem Cell Types for Nerve Repair

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are especially advantageous. They can be gathered safely from a person’s own fat, bone marrow, and post-birth umbilical cord tissue.

MSCs can form myelin – the protective nerve covering. They also spur native Schwann cell healing via growth factor release, control scarring, boost cell survival, and support axon regrowth.

Unique Benefits of Cells From Umbilical Cords

Human umbilical cord blood and jelly provide large amounts of stem cells without embryonic extraction. Additional advantages over adult MSCs include:

  • Lower DNA damage from early life stage
  • Greater expansion from young age
  • Very low likelihood of rejection, enabling immune-matched therapy

Research shows umbilical cord stem cells can revive damaged nerves! They do this by promoting axon growth (nerve cell extensions) and rebuilding nerves with protective sheaths (called myelination). These cells release helpful chemicals (BDNF & NGF) that act like nerve fertilizers, boosting repair.

Scaffolds Are Necessary For Structural Support

However, injected cell efficacy also depends on biocompatible structures enabling directed, tension-free axon regrowth over gaps.

Various natural blood vessel, collagen-based, or synthetic polymer options have been researched with 55%–86% movement and sensation recovery success rates. Scaffolds convey growth factors and cells directly into injury areas while preventing nerve bunching.

Matching Current Gold Standard Repair Without Problems

Ideally, using stem cells and optimized structures would demonstrate safety, feeling, strength, and function recoveries equaling today’s autograft gold standard—without unnecessary tissue harvesting morbidity when patients’ own arms and legs are used.

Already, some early human trials show bone marrow and fat MSCs injected with tubes yield comparable efficacy to autografts when reconstructing critical sensory and motor hand nerves. Early studies report 55%–77% returns in protective sensation, dexterity, and grip ability.

How Stem Cells Promote Nerve Regrowth

MSCs spur multifaceted peripheral nerve regeneration through several main mechanisms:

  • Regulating native Schwann cells: Growth factors maintain Schwann cell injury site activity necessary for axon regrowth support. This prevents dedifferentiation from occurring before reinnervation can occur.
  • Releasing nourishing substances: anti-inflammatory and neuron-protecting factors like BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor—like a growth hormone for nerve cells) and GDNF (Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor—another type of growth hormone for nerve cells.) accelerate axon sprouting, overcome barriers, and prevent cell death.
  • Myelin formation: Forming myelin insulation around new axons enhances signaling speed by insulating axons and providing cell nourishment.
  • Controlling scarring: Managing proteins that drive scarring prevents environments from blocking regrowth.

Additionally, undifferentiated MSCs successfully operate through these paracrine actions without fully transforming into Schwann cells themselves. Injury cues likely supply sufficient signals to guide helpful temporary shifts.

Given abundant access, minimal extraction risks, and extremely low rejection likelihoods, human umbilical cord MSCs specifically provide practical advantages over adult options, holding unique promise for improving nerve injury outcomes.

The Future of Regenerative Medicine for Nerve Damage

In summary, important discoveries continue to progress cell-based biological options as less invasive, clinically suitable alternatives for surgically fixing traumatic or chronic nerve compression damages. Combined next-generation structures, nourishing amplification, and mesenchymal stem cell use increasingly recreate welcoming environments, enabling reestablishing vital hand abilities.

As research uncovers ideal delivery approaches, regenerative solutions will transform and expand medical options for managing arm and hand nerve injuries beyond today’s surgery limits.

Patients with hand weakness or paralysis may contact the Stem Cell Medical Center to explore personalized, minimally invasive cell-based reconstructive options tailored to their unique nerve damage and functional goals. Their world-leading regenerative experts provide cutting-edge treatments, delivering exceptional cell counts using advanced methods.