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Researchers Scan Brain for Insight After Hand Transplant

Nearly 4 months after North Carolina’s first hand transplant was performed, 54-year-old patient Rene Chavez from Laredo, Texas is gaining functionality of his new left hand. 

After the highly complex, 12-hour procedure that was performed on May 27, 2016, by a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, operating room staff and technicians led by Linda Cendales, MD, Chavez started his new journey in learning how to use his new hand. 

After an uncommon surgery such as this, there is much yet to be understood about how the brain works to restore function to the hand.  This week, Chavez allowed Duke physicians and researchers evaluate the changes in the brain associated with amputation and a hand transplant.  Cendales, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Duke Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation Program, along with Steve Melton, MD, Assistant Professor in Anesthesiology, and faculty from the Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis Center, David Madden, PhD, Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Jeffrey Browndyke, PhD, Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Todd Harshbarger, PhD, Instructor in Radiology, performed the first in a series of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that will be conducted during the hand transplant recovery and rehabilitation process.  Chavez and the interdisciplinary team of investigators are hopeful their efforts will bring improved insight into the recovery of motor and sensory functions following limb transplantation and improved clinical outcomes in future patients.