A Frenchman whose body rejected a face transplant after seven years has received a second face from another donor in an unprecedented operation that surgeons had doubted was feasible.
The world’s first face transplant was carried out in France 12 years ago and French surgeons have again made medical history by replacing one transplanted face with another.
The recipient, in his 40s, who has not been named, had lived for nearly two months without a face after suffering a rejection of the first transplant. He was kept on life support in an induced coma after his original graft was removed in November.
A statement issued by France’s biomedical agency and the national hospital service said: “This graft shows for the first time… that re-transplantation is possible in the case of chronic rejection" of a donor face.
It will be weeks before doctors can say whether the second transplant, which took a day to perform, has been successful.
They are hoping it will mark a breakthrough, allowing them to replace the faces of patients who suffer rejections.
Face transplants are still rare, with fewer than 40 operations carried out so far.
At least six patients have died after the high-risk procedure, which entails a life-long dependency on immunosuppressive drugs to stop the body rejecting the ‘foreign’ organ. The medication can leave patients vulnerable to infections and cancers.
Isabelle Dinoire, the woman who received the world’s first partial facial transplant in 2005, died of cancer in 2016 aged 49.
Before she died, Ms Dinoire had suffered a rejection of the transplant and had lost partial use of her lips. The anti-rejection drugs she was taking are believed to have contributed to the occurrence of two cancers.
She was 38 when surgeons performed the operation after she was mauled by a dog.
After the transplant, she said: “It may be someone else’s face, but when I look in the mirror, I see me.”
Transplants can help accident or assault victims or those suffering from genetic disorders to resume basic functions such as breathing, eating and speaking. They also restore the ability to smile or frown.
The first face transplant in France paved the way for doctors in six other countries to perform similar operations. In 2006, a surgeon in London was given permission to carry out full face transplants in Britain.
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