Connecting Touch and the Brain

2015-0830 Hand

Many years ago, when I was in a cognitive therapy program, a classmate and I performed an experiment to determine how many people could feel a safety pin or paper clip in a bowl filled with rice. My recollection is few people could find the foreign objects within a reasonable amount of time.

Since I rarely see stories about the connection between “touch” and “the brain,” the article caught my attention. I hope it catches your attention as well.

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Excerpt of article by Lauran Neergaard | Associated Press

Recovery of feeling can gradually improve for years after a hand transplant, suggests a small study that points to changes in the brain, not just the new hand, as a reason.

Research presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience sheds light on how the brain processes the sense of touch, and adapts when it goes awry. The work could offer clues to rehabilitation after stroke, brain injury, maybe one day even spinal cord injury.

“It holds open the hope that we may be able to facilitate that recovery process,” said Dr. Scott Frey, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

When surgeons attach a new hand, nerves from the stump must regenerate into the transplanted limb to begin restoring different sensations, hot or cold, soft or hard, pressure or pain. While patients can move a new hand fairly soon, how quickly they regain feeling and what sensations they experience vary widely.

“Nerve regeneration is thought to take about two years,” Frey said “yet sensory abilities and motor abilities continue to improve, albeit gradually, as long as we’ve been measuring,” suggesting the brain continues to adapt.

Hand transplants are relatively new and rare. The United Network for Organ Sharing last summer began regulating them like it does organ transplants, and knows of about two dozen recipients in the U.S. since 1999.

Credits

Click here to read another Beyond Adversity post.

Thanks to Lauran Neergaard for writing the article; Associated Press for committing its resources t publishing the article; Society for Neuroscience for allowing the researchers to share their findings; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to share the picture and text in this post.

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