fMRI brain study of hand transplant patient leads to $1.7M DOD grant

Highly active regions of brains in those receiving hand transplants may compensate for reorganizational changes responsible for moving and feeling, according to a release from the University of Missouri. Such innovative research grabbed the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), which awarded the researchers a $1.7 million grant.

This decade-long study, conducted by Scott Frey, PhD, the Miller Family Chair in cognitive neuroscience and professor at the University of Missouri, has resulted in the DOD grant to determine whether nerve injury recovery can be enhanced with non-invasive brain stimulation treatment. The study results may reshape rehabilitation for amputees and stroke patients, according to the press release.

Frey and his team examined a patient who suffered a crush injury at 23 years old and lost his non-dominant hand, according to the study. The patient received a transplant procedure and relearned basic motor functions and sensory perception. During this, Frey and his team monitored the patient's brain using fMRI to analyze how each region of the brain reacts when performing tasks. 

"Currently, there are approximately 75 former amputees worldwide who have received hand transplants," said Frey in a University of Missouri press release. "While conceptually similar to heart, lung and kidney transplants, hand transplants present unique challenges. For successful recovery, the brain that has reorganized following hand loss must relearn how to feel with, and control voluntary movements of, the new hand; how this is possible has been a central question in my work for the past decade."