UK surgeon gets go-ahead for first face transplant

London: Prof Peter Butler, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, has been given the go-ahead to carry out four face transplants with injuries that conventional surgery has no more to offer.

A new charity, The Face Trust, was also launches yesterday to raise the £25,000 for each operation and the anti-rejection drugs.

Permission was granted by the ethics committee of London’s Royal Free Hospital, London, and will now select four patients for the first, ground-breaking operations.

Prof Butler said he would now begin “the more important task, the selection of the right patients”. It will be a year before the first operation takes place.

The first partial face transplant was conducted in France last year when Isabelle Dinoire, 38, who had been savaged by a dog, received the lips, nose and chin of a donor. Her surgery was successful and she began to regain sensation within weeks.

Prof Butler’s team has already been approached by potential patients and sought the help of the French team.

Prof Butler said he was looking at patients who had already lost all their facial tissue and for whom further plastic surgery had nothing to offer.

“In other words, surgeons cannot work on them any more. They may have problems with eyelid and mouth opening and closure, they may not have any hair, their ears may have gone, been destroyed or damaged.

“Most of them just want to be able to walk down the street without being stared at. The French say their patient says she can walk down the street and no one looks at her. It is actually what she wanted to do. You can’t say more than that,” he said.

Each operation will take 12 hours and involve six surgeons working with the donor and the recipient.

If an operation fails, their research has shown that the patient would be no worse off, Prof Butler said. The patient could be offered another transplant, treatment with artificial skin or more standard plastic surgery.

The team will wait for six months after the first operation before attempting a second. He said there had been no cases of acute rejection in 24 hand transplants.

Prof Butler said donors would be people on the national donor register. Recipients and donors would be matched for tissue type, as with organ transplants, but also for skin colour and tone and gender.

French surgeons have reported bereaved families offering faces to transplant co-ordinators since Ms Dinoire’s surgery.