Penn Medicine Establishes Hand Transplant Program

The Penn Transplant Institute, the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Division of Plastic Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) have collaborated to form the Penn Hand Transplant Program. The program will operate under the leadership of the Penn Transplant Institute and in collaboration with the Gift of Life Donor Program, the nonprofit organ and tissue donor program which serves the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware, according to a press release.

The Penn Hand Transplant Program is headed by L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS, Paul B. Magnuson professor of bone and joint surgery, chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery and professor of surgery, division of plastic surgery; and Abraham Shaked, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and director of the Penn Transplant Institute.

The Penn Hand Transplant Program will only perform bi-lateral transplants.

“People who have lost one arm can function fairly well doing everyday tasks and beyond. Many single-arm amputees don’t even bother with prosthetics except for cosmetic purposes. Even people who’ve tragically lost both arms are able to be somewhat self-sufficient if they have their lower extremities,” Levin stated in the press release. “However, someone who has had both arms and legs amputated is completely and totally dependent. The most basic functions of life are virtually impossible to perform.”

Only three other medical centers in the United States have performed hand transplants and only about 50 people in the world have received hand transplants since the first successful operation was performed in France in 1998. The first documented case in the world was performed in Ecuador in 1964 but was unsuccessful as it was performed before the development of modern immunosuppressive medications. To date, nine people have received hand transplant in the United States, including three bi-lateral hand transplant recipients.

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