Aug. 21, 2008 -- Studies tracking the progress of two patients who had face transplants show the surgeries had positive results.
One surgery was done on a man who was attacked by a bear; the other surgery was for a man with a severely disfiguring tumor. The studies are published in The Lancet.
A 30-year-old Chinese man who received a transplant after a bear attack experienced some complications but was doing well two years after his surgery, according to an article authored by Shuzhong Guo of the Institute of Plastic Surgery, Xijing Hospital and Fourth Military Medical University in Xi'an, China, and colleagues.
The patient was attacked in October 2004 and underwent the transplant in April 2006. The surgery included connection of arteries and veins and repair of the nose, lip, and sinuses, as well as other bony structures in the damaged part of the face.
The patient took four different drugs to help his immune system and reduce the chances of tissue rejection. Other drugs were also used to prevent infection.
The transplanted tissue survived well. There were three acute rejection episodes, at three months, five months, and 17 months after surgery. Doctors controlled the episodes with medications.
"This case suggests facial transplantation might be an option for restoring a severely disfigured face, and could enable patients to readily integrate themselves back into society," the researchers write.
The second study, about a man with a facial tumor who underwent transplant surgery in 2007, was authored by Laurent Lantieri in the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery at CHU Henri Mondor in Creteil, France.
The 29-year-old patient had a tumor that had disfigured his middle and lower face, making it difficult for him to talk. The goal was to improve the appearance and function of his face.
Two rejections occurred, on day 28 and day 64 after the surgery. However, both episodes were managed with drugs. A year after the surgery, function had improved, with sensation and motor function returning to the transplanted area. The patient's psychological recovery was "excellent," with complete social reintegration, according to the study. He also began full-time work as an accounting agent 13 months after the transplant.