Face transplants 'within five years'

FACE TRANSPLANTS could be technically possible within five years, a leading American plastic surgeon has predicted, a week after surgeons in France transplanted a hand.

The donors would be brain-dead people on life support systems, of the same age as the recipient, who would be given the facial skin, muscles, nerves, bones and even lips, Dr John Barker of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, suggests.

Having a face transplant would not automatically make the recipient look like the donor, because the underlying bone structure determines the face's shape. But in situations where the bones have been destroyed, such as mouth cancer or attempted suicides, the donor's bones could also be changed to create a new base for the transplanted skin.

Dr Barker, who told New Scientist he plans to begin a programme of "at least 10" hand transplants in 1999, and to transplant pieces of face by 2003, believes that face transplants will be in demand from people whose faces have been irreparably damaged.

"I had a case described to me a week ago where a three-year-old child had his face ripped off by a pit bull dog, leaving just the bone underneath," he said yesterday. "The plastic surgeon was wondering whether the technique used for transplanting hands could be used. If we had a donor, we would take the skin and put it over the existing bone."

At present, damaged faces are rebuilt using flaps of skin and muscle from other parts of the patient's body. That avoids the body's natural rejection of foreign tissue. But, Dr Barker says, "cosmetically it looks terrible".

Nadey Hakim, one of the international team of doctors who last week transplanted a hand on to Clint Hallam, a New Zealander, said that face transplants would be "much more complicated than what we have done". The ethics "would depend on whether you're looking at it from the donor's side or the recipient's".

Mr Hakim, of St Mary's Hospital in London, said Mr Hallam was doing well. "Just looking at it on the surface, the hospital told me it looks perfect," he said yesterday. "They have done a biopsy to test for immune rejection but it will take 24 hours to get the results."

The hand transplant is an ambitious step and could provide a means of testing the techniques needed for face swaps. Most transplants involve only a single organ or tissue; but a hand incorporates skin, muscle, nerve and bone, making the operation in some ways more demanding than a face transplant, where bone would not be involved.

But New Scientist warns: "The idea of a market for young faces emerging among the ageing rich is too awful to contemplate" and adds: "Besides, cosmetic surgeons can already transform the faces of the living. Ask Michael Jackson."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map