Face transplants can work, studies show

LONDON Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:58pm EDT

Before and after images illustrate a face transplant performed by Chinese doctors on a 30-year-old mauled by a bear. 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 tumor show that such transplants can work and are not medical oddities, researchers said on Thursday. REUTERS/The Lancet/Handout

Before and after images illustrate a face transplant performed by Chinese doctors on a 30-year-old mauled by a bear. 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 tumor show that such transplants can work and are not medical oddities, researchers said on Thursday.

Credit: Reuters/The Lancet/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - 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 tumor show that such transplants can work and are not medical oddities, researchers said on Thursday.

The findings give hope to some 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.

Only three people have received face transplants. 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. Last year, her doctors reported that she had recovered slowly and steadily, overcoming two episodes of rejection

In 2006, Chinese doctors performed a face transplant on a 30-year-old mauled by a bear. While there were some complications with tissue rejection following the operation, two years later the man was doing well, his doctors said.

"This case suggests that facial transplantation might be an option for restoring a severely disfigured face, and could enable patients to readily reintegrate themselves back into society," Shuzhong Guo and colleagues at Xijing hospital in China wrote.

A French team described their work on a 29-year-old man who suffered from von Recklinghausen disease, an illness that deforms the face. The man, who was not named, was given a new nose, mouth and chin in a 2007 operation.

He began work 13 months after the transplant, has more function in his face and has not rejected the new tissue, his doctors said.

"Our case confirms that face transplantation is surgically feasible and effective for the correction of specific disfigurement," Dr. Laurent Lantieri and colleagues at the Henri-Mondor hospital outside Paris wrote.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Maggie Fox)

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