Soldier Gets Double-Arm Transplant; New Hope for Wounded Military

First Posted: Jan 28, 2013 01:41 PM EST

Patients who have lost their limbs may have the opportunity to receive new ones in the future. A soldier who lost all four limbs in a roadside bomb attack in 2009 in Iraq received a double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Although this treatment may seem novel, the soldier isn't the first to receive it. He joins seven others in the U.S. who have undergone successful double-arm transplants.

Limb transplants, like organ transplants, are a difficult business. Extensive treatment needs to follow the surgery in order to prevent the patient's body from rejecting the new limbs. Although in the past anti-rejection drugs were used extensively, in this case doctors used a treatment pioneered by W.P. Andrew Lee, plastic surgery chief and Johns Hopkins. It instead used the dead donor's bone marrow cells, which reduced the need for the drugs. Anti-reject drugs can often cause complications after transplants, including infection organ damage. They can also raise the risk of cancer over the long term, according to ABC News.

Limb transplants, like face transplants, are done to improve the quality of life for a patient. Organ transplants, in contrast, are aimed at extending life. Since prosthetics for limbs are not as advanced as those for feet and legs, this surgery could drastically improve the soldier's lifestyle.

The military is continuing to sponsor similar operations to help wounded troops. About 300 soldiers have lost arms or hands in the wars. Lee has already received funding for his work from the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and plans to continue his work by conducting face transplants and other surgeries that can improve a patient's life. In addition, he plans to use the new bone marrow treatment to help make these surgeries successful.

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