Lancet published a report last week updating the conditions of two face transplant patients. Laurent Lantieri reported on their patient's status one year after a transplant; Chinese doctors also reported on their patient, two years after his surgery (hat tip: Frank Holman). From the Associated Press:
Last year, the French team operated on a 29-year-old man with tumors that blurred his features in a face that looked almost monstrous. They transplanted a new lower face from a donor, giving the patient new cheeks, a nose and mouth. Six months later, he could smile and blink.
The Chinese patient had part of his face ripped off by a bear. Surgeons in Xian gave him a new nose, upper lip and cheek from a donor. After a few months, he could eat, drink and talk normally, and returned home to Yunnan province in southwest China.
The patients were not identified although photos were included in the reports.
As is the case with all transplants, doctors use immune-suppressing drugs to prevent the recipient's body from attacking the donated tissue. In both face transplants, the patients started rejecting the transplanted tissue more than once. Their doctors solved the problem by juggling their medications.
Awesome accomplishments, but the procedures involved are still fraught with complications. Two more face transplant triumphs — from New Scientist:
[None of the patients] has suffered the feared psychological consequences of receiving parts of other people's faces.
"The psychological results are very good," says Lantieri. Dubernard, meanwhile, repeated a statement from Dinoire three months ago that the transplant "gave me back an identity, because without a face, I am nothing".
"We're very encouraged by these results," says Maria Siemionow of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and the only holder in the US of approval to do a face transplant, granted in 2004. "But as we can see, there's still incidence of acute rejection, so we need to work on immunosuppressive procedures that are less harmful," she says.
Siemionow says that her team is still preparing for the possibility of doing face transplants, but that everything needs to be in place beforehand. "It's taking time to get agreement on this, not just in the institutions involved, but in society generally," she says.