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Research Fellows Directory

Tamar R Makin

Dr Tamar R Makin

Research Fellow


University of Oxford

Research summary

Following hand amputation, individuals face an incredible challenge to adapt to

their disability. Moreover, medical rehabilitation provides them with limited help,

particularly for those amputees who suffer from ‘phantom limb pain’ - pain which is

perceived to come from the amputated limb. It has been estimated to occur in up

to 80% of amputees, and therefore poses a significant medical problem. The

unusual problem that medical staff face in treating phantom limb pain, is that the

pain arises from a part of the body that no longer exists.

How can we perceive pain from an already amputated hand? It is possible that

even though the hand is no longer a part of the body, the brain still ‘remembers’ it.

Indeed, sensory deprevation, such as following hand amputation, leads to a

‘recruitment’ of the recently-deprived cortex by neighbouring areas, so that brain

cells that responded to a touch on the hand, will now respond to a similar touch on

the face – the cortical neighbour of the hand. The practical everyday

consequences of these massive changes are not clear to us. It is possible that

those body parts which benefit from additional responses in the brain will now

enjoy enhanced sensory abilities, thus allowing the amputee to develop keener

sensations. Alternatively, it has been suggested that this extensive reorganization

is mal-adaptive, and might therefore contribute to the generation of phantom pain.

My project will take a fresh approach to study the “domino effects” in the brain

following hand amputation, and its adaptive and mal-adaptive consequences,

using the latest brain imaging techniques. For example, I would like to investigate

whether the intact hand can benefit from the newly ‘unemployed’ brain areas.

Once we have characterized the brain changes that follow hand amputation we

could guide the amputees to take advantage of these changes, rather than to

suffer from them.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Funcitonal consequences of multisensory plasticity following hand amputation in the human brain

Scheme: Newton International Fellowships

Dates: Aug 2009 - Aug 2011

Value: £101,000