Face transplantation is a recent development in reconstructive surgery for patients who have lost some or all of their face from injury or disease. The first full face transplantation in the United States was carried out at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 2011. Hospital specialists subsequently performed full face transplantations on three additional patients.
As part of the procedure, surgeons connect the patient's major arteries and veins to those from a donor face, or facial allograft, to ensure healthy circulation in the transplanted tissue. Because the technology is new, not much is known about the vascular changes that help blood penetrate, or perfuse, into the transplanted tissue. The development of new blood vessel networks in transplanted tissue is critical to the success of face transplant surgery.
"All three patients included in this study at Brigham and Women's maintain excellent perfusion, or blood flow, the key element of viability of the facial tissues and the restoration of form and function to those individuals who otherwise had no face," said study co-author Frank J. Rybicki, M.D., Ph.D., FAHA, FACR, director of the hospital's Applied Imaging Science Laboratory. "We assumed that the arterial blood supply and venous blood return was simply from the connections of the arteries and the veins at the time of the surgery."