Face Transplant: A U.S. Reality

Over the years, ear and scalp transplantation has been successfully performed throughout the world. Yet, no one suspected that facial transplant could be a reality until 2005 when Isabelle Dinoire, Professor Jean-Michel Dubernard, Bernard Devauchelle and a team of surgeons in France joined together to transplant areas of Isabelle’s mouth and nose. The team acquired donor tissue from a brain dead donor’s nose and mouth to repair Isabelle’s traumatic injury from a dog. Isabelle began to regain sensitivity and mobility within a year following surgery.

Since then, the first face transplant patient for the repair of genetic defect was performed in France. This facial transplant case replaced the chin, mouth, nose and portions of the cheeks.

In the early 2000’s, twenty year micro-surgical research was endorsed by the Cleveland Clinic. The results of the research conducted on animals showed that micro-surgical techniques have an application in human facial transplantation. In 2004, the Cleveland Clinic received Institutional Review Board approval to screen potential face transplant patients. Since then, the first partial face transplant has been performed in the U.S.

In 2009, Brigham and Women’s Hospital hosted the second facial transplant case. Dr. B Pomahac led a team of seven plastic surgeons and an ear nose and throat surgeon through a 17-hour mid face transplantation. This surgery repaired the hard palate, nose, facial skin, muscles for facial expression, upper lip, and the nose of a victim.

There are different types of techniques that may be used for facial transplantations. Face transplant recipients require a donor who has agreed to provide living tissue to the needy. This is often a brain dead individual with blood flow. The New England Organ Bank was the donor bank for the most recent case. A free tissue transfer relates to the individual requiring treatment being the source for tissue, underlying fat, nerves and blood vessels.

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