Brain still registering sensation in 48% of people following complete spinal cord injury
Dr Sylvia Gustin from Neuroscience Research Australia used cutting edge magnetic resonance imaging known as fMRI scans to record how 23 people living with spinal injuries responded to touch.
The scientists were surprised that many people who couldn't feel the stimulation were still registering the touch in their brains.
"We found using functional MRI, activity in the brain was detected in 48 per cent of people with clinically complete spinal cord injury," she said.
"This means despite previously believing the communication to the brain had been severed in the injury, the messages are still being received by the brain.
"So this is a very exciting breakthrough study."
The next step is to develop treatments to enhance the surviving sensory nerve connections, which could be brain computer interface techniques or brain stimulation at the level of the spinal cord.