Face transplants show promising results

A face transplant performed on a man who suffered horrific injuries in a bear attack has shown promising results, say doctors.

The case was one of two reported today which suggest that face transplants can be a successful long term treatment for disfigurement.

The 30-year old Chinese bear victim was attacked in October 2004.

A large section of the man's face was ripped off, leaving him horribly disfigured.

Doctors decided to go ahead with a face transplant after an initial attempt to repair the damage with tissue from the patient's left forearm failed.

The face donor was a 25-year-old man who had died in a road traffic accident. After consent was obtained from the donor's family, the transplant operation was performed in April 2006.

Professor Shuzhong Guo, from Xijing Hospital and Fourth Military Medical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China, led the team of plastic surgeons.

During an 18-hour operation, they re-connected arteries, veins and nerves, and repaired the nose, upper lip, and sinuses.

Four different drugs were administered to reduce the chances of tissue rejection.

The transplanted tissue survived well, the researchers reported in The Lancet medical journal. No infections occurred, but the patient suffered three acute rejection episodes and high blood sugar which was controlled by medication.

The researchers wrote: "Facial transplantation could be successful in the short term, but the procedure was not without complications. However, promising results could mean that this procedure might be an option for long-term restoration of severe facial disfigurement."

The second case involved a 29-year old French-Caribbean man whose face had been terribly disfigured by a type of genetic tumour called a neurofibroma.

In this case the donor was a brain-dead patient with a beating heart. The operation, led by Professor Laurent Lantieri, from Henri Mondor University Hospital in Creteil, France, lasted 15 hours.

The patient made a good recovery and began full time work 13 months after undergoing surgery.

Prof Lantieri's team wrote: "Our case confirms that face transplantation is surgically feasible and effective for the correction of specific disfigurement, due in this case to a genetic disorder."