Brigham and Women's Hospital will perform hand transplants

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston is launching a hand transplant program in a move Dr. Matt Carty--the surgical lead for the program--calls "a leap above prosthesis," the hospital announced this week. It already has screened six people who might be eligible for the surgery, Carty, a reconstructive plastic surgeon told the Boston Globe.

Eligible candidates for the program have lost one or both hands, and possibly a large part of an arm.  Most patients who are eligible suffered trauma and burns to their hands and arms, including some veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning with extremity injuries that may require hand amputation. "There's a huge potential pool of candidates in our soldiers returning from the front lines who have had severe limb injuries," Carty said.

Fewer than 50 patients have ever undergone a hand transplant. The first recipient in the U.S. is doing well more than 11 years after receiving his new hand at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, the Globe reports.

Only three U.S. hospitals have ever performed the procedure. UCLA Health just started a program in July.

Hand transplants are more complicated than liver and kidney transplants, because skin, tendons, muscles, ligaments, bones and blood vessels from the donor must be fused to the patient. Earlier hand transplant research has shown that after two years, all patients gained the ability to tell if something was hot or sharp. More than 90 percent gained the ability to distinguish whether something was fuzzy or smooth.

Most patients said their quality of life improved as the transplant increasingly allowed them to perform daily activities.

To learn more:
- here's Brigham and Women's Hospital press release
- see the UCLA Health press release
- read the Boston Globe's account