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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Tongue transplant first
Doctors say they have carried out the world's first successful tongue transplant on a human.

Vienna General Hospital
The operation took place at Vienna General Hospital
A 42-year-old man underwent the 14-hour operation at Vienna's General Hospital on Saturday, it is reported.

The man, who has not been identified, was suffering from a malignant tumour affecting his tongue and jaw.

A team of doctors, led by Dr Christian Kermer and Dr Franz Watzinger, removed the tumour and attached the new tongue.

The patient, who agreed to the procedure after the treatment options were explained to him, is said to be in a good condition.

Tongue transplant surgery has been carried out before, but only in animals.

Tough prospect

One of the major problems facing doctors is that the mouth is continually being filled with foreign - and potentially infectious - material. However, the mouth is very effective at keeping itself clean naturally.

Doctors often turn to muscle tissue taken from a patient's back or abdomen to rebuild a tongue that has been amputated because of cancer or other disease, but they say this method is far from ideal.

Dr Peter Rowe, chairman of the ethics committee of the British Transplantation Society, told BBC News Online that the crucial issue would be whether the donor organ could provide the recipient with sufficient mobility.

He said: "A lot of immuno-suppressant therapy would be required to promote acceptance.

"One would have to weigh up the benefits of a transplant with the various risks of suppressing the immune system, which raises the risk of infection, and, in the long term, of further malignancies."

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