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Face transplant 'double success' could pave way for operations worldwide

Posted on 4:42 AM by Sameer Shah

Facial transplants, once the preserve of science fiction, could soon be performed worldwide after two more successful operations in China and France.

New faces given to a Chinese man after a bear tore off part of his face and a French-Caribbean man disfigured by a rare tumour show that such transplants can work and are not medical oddities, researchers said.

The findings give hope to people with severe facial disfigurement and suggest the transplants could prove long-lasting without major problems, two separate research teams reported in the Lancet medical journal.

Despite recurrent episodes of tissue rejection in the first year after their transplants, neither man had psychological problems accepting their new faces and have been able to rejoin society, they reported.

'People in the street look at me very differently. They no longer stop and stare or shout cruel words,' the 29-year-old French-Caribbean man said.

'Instead I am accepted. I even dream of myself in my new face and now I would love to find a wife, settle down and have children.'

Only three people have received face transplants so far. The world's first was carried out on French woman Isabelle Dinoire in November 2005 after she was disfigured in an attack by her dog.



The face she was left with was not her own, nor that of the donor. Instead it was a 'hybrid' mixture of the two. Skin tissue, muscle, blood vessels and nerves all had to be taken from the donor and carefully attached to the patient's lower face.

Last year, her doctors reported that she had recovered slowly and steadily, overcoming two episodes of rejection.

The procedure has been hugely controversial with some experts fearing that a living person given the face of a dead person could suffer severe psychological problems.

But Isabelle Dinoire defended her decision to have the transplant: 'Since the day of the operation, I have a face like everybody else,' she told a packed press conference three months after her operation.




In Britain surgeons at the Royal Free Hospital in London are preparing to carry out the operation as soon as they get the right combination of patient and donor.

Professor Iain Hutchison, founder of the 'Saving Faces' charity and a consultant surgeon at Barts and the London Hospital said the twin successes would offer more encouragement for surgical teams considering carrying out their own operations.

'There is certainly demand for this, with the major area being for people with facial burns,' Professor Hutchison said.

But he added transplants would probably be limited by the lack of suitable donors, put off by 'societal constraints'.

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