Brigham and Women's Set To Begin Hand Transplant Program

Press Release - Aug 24, 2010


Building off the rich history of transplant surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), a multidisciplinary group of both medical and surgical specialists are set to take another step forward in pioneering transplant surgery and begin performing hand transplants. Worldwide, less than 50 patients have undergone hand transplantation, with the first surgery performed nearly a decade ago.

"A hand is more than something you grab a cup with," said Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of the BWH Burn Center and principal investigator of both the hand and face and transplantation programs. "It touches loved ones, it's what you use to perform personal hygiene, eat and shake someone's hand. And for the blind, hands are their eyes."

In hand transplantation surgery, the transplanted tissue is a composite of various tissues, such as skin, tendons, muscles, ligaments, bones and blood vessels which is transferred from the donor to a patient with amputation of one or both hands.  This complex, experimental reconstructive surgery has the potential to improve the lives of hand amputees drastically. 

"It's a restorative operation unlike any that has previously existed," said Matt Carty, MD, of Plastic Surgery, the surgical lead for the hand transplantation program. "Transplant is a leap above prostheses in that we are giving something that functions like a hand and also feels sensation."

Previous research in hand transplantation shows that after 2 years, all of the patients gained protective sensation, which is the ability to tell if something is hot or sharp, and more than 90 percent gained discriminative sensation, which is the ability to distinguish whether something is fuzzy or smooth.  The majority of patients reported improved quality of life and functionality following the transplant, which allowed them to perform most daily activities. 

BWH is currently recruiting eligible patients to participate in this research study.  Potential candidates have lost one or both hands and potentially a large part of their arm.  Patients who have had traditional limb reconstruction with poor results or those that have tried different kinds of prostheses without success are eligible.  Most patients who are eligible suffered trauma and burns to their hands and arms, including some veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning with extremity injuries that may require hand amputation.