New research shows that motor recovery and improvements in speech and social interactions occur within one year after face transplantation. The study will be study being presented at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) annual conference: Plastic Surgery The Meeting in New Orleans.

“What we found is that a face transplant is more than a way to create a more pleasing appearance because the new face can be functional as well,” says Bohdan Pomahac, MD, a plastic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in a [removed]news release[/removed]. “Integration and functionality of the transplanted face depends on the recovery of neuromuscular pathways and sensory nerves.”

The new study measured the return of sensory and motor functioning in four, full or partial, face transplant recipients. All transplantations were performed 2009 to 2011. Researchers assessed the patients’ ability to feel objects touching the surface of their skin and their ability to perform simple motor tasks at early and late postoperative periods. They found that patients made significant strides in the year after face transplantation.

Initially, patients could not breathe through their new mouth or nose and required a breathing tube. They were unable to chew or speak. However, by 12 months many patients could breathe, eat and talk quite easily, the study showed. They also regained the ability of facial expression, recovered certain aspects of socialization, and were able to smell again. Sensory recovery and motor functioning were largely dependent on whether major nerves were able to be reconnected to those in the transplanted face.

“Due to damage related to the patients’ original traumas, connecting nerves in some areas was not possible,” says Pomahac. “Sensory recovery was not observed or lagged behind in areas where sensory nerves could not be connected to the transplant.”