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Creating the Bionic Woman: Making Nerves Spring Back to Life

Cutting-Edge Nerve Repair Discussed at American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Annual Meeting

BALTIMORE, Oct. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the debut of NBC's "Bionic Woman," the notion of a bionic person is thought of as merely television fantasy. However, the bionic woman is getting closer to reality as reconstructive plastic surgeons perform quality-of-life-enhancing peripheral nerve surgeries once thought impossible. In fact, plastic surgeons are perfecting a nerve surgery that will allow humans to better interface with machines, giving amputees the ability to better move prosthetics, say presenters at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) Plastic Surgery 2007 conference in Baltimore.

"Peripheral nerves control the body's motor and sensory functions and injuries can be devastating, significantly impacting a patient's ability to perform normal activities," said W.P. Andrew Lee, MD, ASPS Member Surgeon and panel moderator. "We are restoring patients' movement through reconstructive plastic surgery that allows nerves and muscles to merge with, power, and move prosthetic devices. The bionic person is no longer just a Hollywood concept."

On the forefront, plastic surgeons are perfecting a new nerve transfer procedure where nerve fibers from a neighboring muscle are redirected to the damaged muscle to provide function. The nerve branches from the original muscle and the redirected nerve branches to the damaged muscle then compensate for the loss by growing extra branches. Within months, the damaged muscle regains function from the "borrowed" nerve fibers.

"Before, we had to wait for the nerve to slowly regenerate and hope the muscle was still healthy and had some functionality once the nerve reconnected to it," said Paul Cederna, MD, ASPS Member Surgeon and lecture presenter. "While plastic surgeons have been talking about this type of nerve transfer for some time, it wasn't until recently that we've successfully performed these operations."

Plastic surgeons are using the nerve transfer technique to help amputees gain better control and move their prostheses. Often, there is little muscle left following an upper arm amputation, making it difficult to maneuver the artificial limb. Surgeons are transferring the remaining nerves in the upper arm to chest and back muscles, allowing those muscles to help control and power prostheses.

Plastic surgeons are also making remarkable progress in peripheral nerve treatments that restore symmetry to patients with facial paralysis and in pain management -- particularly for diabetics and migraine headache sufferers.

Tissue walls in the feet of some diabetics can become stiff over time and tighten around nerves. Constricted nerves are also a cause of migraine headaches. Plastic surgeons are freeing the space around these nerves to relieve pressure and alleviate pain or numbness.

Patients with facial paralysis, due to trauma or tumors, often lose the ability to use facial muscles around the mouth which leads to asymmetry or a permanent frown. Having a permanent frown may negatively impact people's perceptions of an individual. Botox(R) can be used to paralyze the normal functioning muscles while patients have physical therapy to strengthen the damaged muscles and restore symmetry to the face.

"The steps we are taking in peripheral nerve surgery are dramatically changing the way patients are treated and positively impacting their lives," said Ivica Ducic, MD, ASPS Member Surgeon and course instructor. "Considering what we've accomplished over the last several years, we are definitely entering into a new age of reconstructive plastic surgery."

Visit for referrals to ASPS Member Surgeons and to learn more about cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons in the world. With more than 6,000 members, the society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises 90 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Note: The lecture "Reinnervating Muscle - The Fantastic Voyage" is being presented Sunday, Oct. 28, 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., the panel "Beyond Nerve Grafting: The Making of Semi-bionic Man" is on Sunday, Oct. 28, 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and the instructional course "Peripheral Nerve Surgery: Indications and Algorithms for the Treatment of Compression Peripheral Neuropathies, Postoperative or Posttraumatic Pain and Chronic (Migraine) Headaches" is on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore.

Reporters can register to attend Plastic Surgery 2007 and arrange interviews with presenters by logging on to or by contacting ASPS Public Relations at (847) 228-9900 or in Baltimore, Oct. 27-31 at (410) 649-6205.

SOURCE American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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