When a limb is lost or absent from birth, patients have different strategies that can be used for rehabilitation. Now, with the help of a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a University of Missouri (MU), Columbia, researcher will use the MU Brain Imaging Center to look for insights into the mental and physical discomfort that individuals with amputations experience in an effort to improve current rehabilitation strategies. This is part of a collaboration with colleagues at the Christine M. Kleinert Institute (CMKI), Louisville, Kentucky, which includes individuals who have undergone hand reattachments as well as recipients of hand transplants.
“Our goal is to learn about changes in brain organization and behavior that occur as the result of limb loss or congenital absence,” said Scott Frey, PhD, professor of psychological sciences and director of the Brain Imaging Center. “These include changes associated with absence of a hand and with increased use of the remaining hand.”
Currently, Frey is looking for volunteers, ages 18-70, who have lost or were born without an arm or hand, for the study designed to advance the understanding of brain reorganization. Individuals with or without prostheses are welcome. Participants, who are being sought regionally, will undergo functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while they perform movements and experience sensory stimuli. Unilateral amputees also will undergo testing of intact hand functions and will have an opportunity to participate in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to evaluate changes in connections between the brain and the hand. The new study will begin this spring.
“The reorganizational changes that take place in the brain following the loss of a limb may play a variety of challenges faced by amputees, including pain,” Frey said. “A better understanding of these changes may help in the development of more effective rehabilitation strategies for amputees and others who have experienced injuries to the body, brain, or spinal cord.”
Previously, Frey had studied how the brain reacts when a hand transplant is completed and found that, following a hand transplant, normal activity does return to the region of the brain that controls hand function. In that study, the amputee Frey observed received a hand transplant 35 years after his accident.
While the current work is focused on hand loss, individuals with lower-limb amputation due to injury will be included in the near future.