Isabelle Dinoire, from France was the first to undergo a partial face transplant in 2005 after her face was mauled by a dog.
Egged on by the positive outcome of partial face transplants, British surgeons are now gearing up to perform a complete face transplant, though challenges still exist in the ethical and psychological realm. Further, patients would also need to take potent drugs for a lifetime to reduce the chances of rejection of the new tissue by the immune system.
A patient from South China, who was mauled by a bear in 2004, had lost his left eye, nose and major part of the upper lip. Doctors performed a face transplant after all attempts to repair the damage with a tissue proved unsuccessful.
Shuzhong Guo, from Xijing Hospital and a team of surgeons performed an 18 hour surgery to rectify the damage to the nose, lip and sinuses and also to establish the connection between the blood vessels and nerves. The patient's immune system was restrained with the help of four drugs, along with other medicines to fight the risks of infection.
Happy with the success of the operation, Dr Guo said: "After transplantation, the patient's facial appearance was greatly improved the patient was able to eat, drink and talk normally."
Whether facial transplants are ethically justified or not, is a subject of constant debate. Peter Butler, clinical director of surgery at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, North London, is keen to conduct the first full-face transplant in United Kingdom which is being planned next year.