Face Transplants

New techniques in microsurgery and improved anti-rejection drugs have made it technically possible to allow the face of one person to be grafted on to another. Facial transplants previously belonged to the realm of science fiction, but a group of British surgeons and experts is being assembled to discuss the idea. The technical hurdles are daunting. A facial transplant would involve dealing with eight different major blood vessels to the face, and using microscopic stitching to attach them to the recipient. Specialist skills would also have to remove the facial muscles, skin and subcutaneous fat from the donor. One of the most important facets to the process would be for nerve regeneration on the new face. Whilst the technical hurdles can be overcome, the ethical hurdles are considerable. Such surgery would not proceed without a full public debate and governmental approval. But those who have suffered severe facial deformities from burns, cancer patients who have had facial surgery, or people who have been disfigured in accidents could be the first to benefit.

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