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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 10:20 GMT
Face transplants 'now possible'
Surgeons say they could now carry out a face transplant
Surgeons appear to be gearing up to carry out the world's first face transplant.

British doctors say they have been approached by 10 patients keen to find out more about the procedure.

Surgeons in France and the United States say they are now ready to graft the face of a dead person on to someone who has been facially disfigured.

However, British doctors say they need public support before they will carry out the highly controversial procedure.

Medical advance

The prospect of transplanting a face from a dead person to another living person was first raised by plastic surgeons one year ago.

Speaking at the time, Peter Butler, a plastic surgeon at London's Royal Free Hospital, told a conference that the procedure would be possible within months.

There are many moral, ethical and psychological issues which need to be debated before anyone has surgery
Spokeswoman, Royal Free Hospital
Surgeons now say they have reached the point where they could carry out the operation.

They say improvements in anti-rejection drugs now make it possible.

The technique would involve removing facial muscles and skin from a dead donor and placing them on another person.

Surgeons have acknowledged that such a procedure raises major moral, ethical and psychological issues.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is expected to publish a report on face transplants next week. Surgeons hope it will help to spark a public debate.

The Royal Free Hospital insisted that its doctors would not carry out the procedure until the issues were debated.

"While Peter Butler and his team are confident they have overcome the technical hurdles to this procedure, there are many moral, ethical and psychological issues which need to be debated before anyone has surgery," a spokeswoman said.

"The publication of the Royal College of Surgeons' report on the issue of face transplantation, which is due soon, is the first step in this important process."

Patient requests

The hospital revealed that doctors had received requests for information from patients.

"The team has had requests for information from 10 people from all over the world but none has been assessed in any way," said the spokeswoman.

"Once a serious debate has taken place and resolved the issues outlined above, the question of ethical approval can be addressed and if that is forthcoming potential patients' suitability for surgery can be assessed."

The Royal College of Surgeons report is expected to examine the physical and psychological risks of face transplants.

"The Royal College of Surgeons set up a working party to look at the various issues that would need to be considered if such a procedure were to take place - not only the surgical and medical aspects of such an operation but also the psychological and ethical aspects," the college said in a statement.

The report will be published ahead of a debate at the Dana Centre at London's Science Museum, on Wednesday next week.

It will be addressed by John Barker, a leading plastic surgeon from the University of Louisiana. His team is expected to be the first to carry out a face transplant if it receives regulatory approval.

However, another team in France have also applied for ethical approval to carry out the operation.

'The hope of a new face'
27 Nov 02  |  Health

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