In a special presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), Maria Siemionow, MD, head of plastic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, spoke on the research program that has laid the groundwork for the first human full facial-skin transplant.

The highlight of the April 22 presentation was her description of experiments to produce chimeric rats, in which skin and even limbs of one strain of laboratory rat were transplanted into a genetically distant strain with no rejection and only a short-term need for immunosuppression drugs. The key to the success of these transplants is the introduction of vascularized bone marrow into the recipient animal.

Siemionow emphasized that the types of transplant operations under consideration would be performed only on individuals whose faces have been so badly damaged by fire, war injuries, or cancer that conventional skin grafts are not feasible. They would enable these patients to obtain a quality of life that they would not otherwise have.

Siemieonow’s presentation was received warmly by the several hundred surgeons in attendance, and this response was very gratifying to her.

“This is the first presentation I’ve made at an ASAPS meeting,” she said. “I feel that it’s important for aesthetic as well as reconstructive surgeons to be aware of this work.”

Siemionow and her research group are in the process of selecting candidates for the facial-skin transplant. No specific timeline has been set for the surgery.