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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Face transplant decision expected
Isabelle Dinoire
Isabelle Dinoire underwent a partial transplant last year
The world's first full face transplant could be performed in Britain if the ethical committee at a top London hospital gives the go-ahead.

If the revolutionary procedure is allowed the process to identify a suitable candidate will get underway.

Prof Peter Butler, top plastic surgeon at Royal Free Hospital, has spent 14 years researching the procedure and has spoken to 30 possible patients.

The Royal Free ethical committee meets on Wednesday to start discussions.

A spokesman for Prof Butler stressed that even if permission is granted it would not mean a transplant was imminent - the selection process could take a year.

Weston backs ops

"There is a meeting of the ethical committee that will consider the next stage in the process," he said.

"What they will be discussing is the form of the operation and whether that operation is right to go ahead.

"After that we have still got to find a patient, bring them forward and then get permission for that person to be operated on."

Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who suffered horrific burns in the 1982 conflict, is due to accompany the medical team to the meeting to explain why he thinks doctors should be allowed to perform face transplants.

He used to oppose the procedure but has since changed his mind.

For the past five years Mr Butler has been researching tissue rejection and psychological issues as well as concerns surrounding identity.

Donor family

Last year he was given permission to identify a patient who meets the selection criteria by a hospital ethics committee.

The spokesman said: "No one has been chosen. The final selection process has not yet begun."

"There is no possibility of a face transplant in this country for some considerable time. There is an awful lot of work to be done still. There are no patients lined up to be operated on."

Last November a French woman received a section of nose, lips and chin in a partial face transplant carried out by a team of surgeons led by Professor Jean-Michel Dubernard.

Isabelle Dinoire, 38, underwent the procedure after being mauled by the family labrador.

A 50-strong team of medics in Amiens, northern France, worked around the clock to perform the transplant.

'Early stage'

The organs were taken from a donor who was brain dead, with the family's consent.

In 2003 the Royal College of Surgeons voiced concerns about face transplants concluding in a report that more research was needed into the psychological impact on recipients and the donor family.

They also said greater understanding was needed about the drugs the patient would have to take for the rest of their life to stop their new face from being rejected.

The surgery would require the removal of eight different blood vessels, four arteries and four veins from the donor and attaching them to the patient's face by reconnecting the tissue.

"We are still at a very early stage. It could be more than a year before something happens," the spokesman said.


SEE ALSO
Woman has first face transplant
30 Nov 05 |  Health
US plans first face transplant
19 Sep 05 |  Health



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