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British medical team formed to discuss facial-transplant safety, ethics issues

London — A British veteran of the 1982 Falkland Islands War may be the next facial-transplant recipient — but it may be months before he finds out for sure.

In June, a medical team from London’s Royal Free Hospital gathered to begin considering whether the surgery is safe and whether it is likely that patients will be able to cope with the psychological impact.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who suffered massive burns in the 1982 conflict and is one of 29 patients who have been identified as potential transplant recipients, was set to testify at the meeting why he thinks doctors should be allowed to perform facial transplants.

It could be months before a final decision is made whether the team will get the go-ahead to perform the surgery, and which of the potential recipients will be chosen to undergo the procedure.

In a report issued in 2003, England’s Royal College of Surgeons expressed concerns about face transplants, concluding that more research was needed regarding the psychological impact on recipients and the donor family, and that greater understanding was needed about the effects of life-long drugs a facial-transplant recipient would likely have to take in order to inhibit rejection of the transplanted tissue.

In November 2005, Isabelle Dinoire, a Frenchwoman who had been mauled by a dog, received a section of nose, lips and chin in a partial facial transplant performed by a 50-person surgical team in Amiens, France. In a 17-hour procedure in mid-April, a team of Chinese surgeons transplanted the right cheek, upper lip, eyebrow and nose of an anonymous donor onto the face of Li Guoxing, a 30 year-old Chinese farmer who had been severely injured in an attack by a bear.

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