Bear-attack victim is given China's first face transplant

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A Chinese man whose face was disfigured in an attack by a bear has been given a partial face transplant in a procedure thought to be a first for China.

Li Guoxing has a new nose, cheek, upper lip and eyebrow, according to Xijing military hospital in the central city of Xi'an.

"Up to now, the patient is in good condition. The operation was successful. It is predicted that the patient's wounds can be healed within one week," the hospital said.

The claims, once they are verified by independent experts, would make China the second country to conduct the procedure. It would underscore the nation's growing scientific prowess while raising questions about its patchy regulation of medical experiments.

William Hsiao, a health economist at Harvard University who researches Chinese public health, said: "China always has a group of people who like to be on the cutting-edge of scientific development."

Over the past decade, the Chinese government has poured money into advanced scientific fields, from aerospace to biotechnology, directing grant money and pooling resources to create research centres to rival those of the West. China, which was the third country to have a successful manned space programme, has won praise from international scientists for its its gene research.

The partial face transplant comes less than five months after doctors in Amiens, France, performed the world's first such procedure, transplanting lips, a chin and a nose on to a woman who had been attacked by a dog.

The Chinese hospital said Mr Li had been mauled by a black bear in the southern province of Yunnan two years ago. Photographs released by the hospital showed the extent of his injuries. His right eye was almost closed and the cheek and lip had been badly ripped. Another picture showed Mr Li after the operation, lying with a tube in his mouth, his face puffy, and with surgical scars running from his left ear to his right ear and around his chin.

Other details, including how doctors had found Mr Li and whether he had consented to the publicity he has received, were not immediately available.

Chinese and foreign experts have criticised the government for what they say is lax oversight of research, saying the push for breakthroughs is creating ethical problems.

The government tightened up regulations on research and clinical drug trials after reporters in China accused a US-funded project of conducting research on asthma medication without the proper consent of farmers in central China in the 1990s.