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New Research Aims to Improve Lives of Facial Transplant Patients

August 30, 2018
Photo of Jordan Green

A new study led by a researcher at MGH Institute of Health Professions will explore ways in which people who have had face transplants can more quickly regain their speech, eating, and facial expressions.

Dr. Jordan Green, director of the Speech and Feeding Disorders Lab and associate provost for research, and a team of researchers over the next two years will study facial transplant patients using 3D optical motion capture – the same technology used by Hollywood to convert actors’ facial expressions into animation.

“Because the procedure is so young, there is still a great deal that is not known about the course of recovery for these patients, and how to maximize that recovery,” said Dr. Green. “This is exciting because fewer than 40 such transplants have been performed to date.”

He is collaborating Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who leads the plastic surgery team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of the few teams with the ability to perform this procedure worldwide. They are joined by Dr. Bridget Perry, a graduate of the MGH Institute’s PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences who works at Tufts Medical Center.

Their research will focus on determining baseline rates of lip-motor recovery and testing the safety, feasibility, and efficacy of a 12-week in-home, lip exercise program they hope can improve speech and swallowing for these patients. The technique involves putting small reflective stickers on points of interest on the subject’s face, which are then tracked by a system of multiple cameras to capture a patient’s face and extract valuable information about their facial functioning.

“There’s still much we don’t know about how these patients recover their facial function after the transplant, and many patients still have trouble speaking, eating, and regaining a full range of facial expression,” said Green. “Our work has the potential for large impacts on future beneficiaries of face transplants.”