It seems that the movie Face/Off, in which John Travolta and Nicolas Cage swapped faces via a new laser-aided medical procedure, was not so fanciful after all. In yet another example of how “fiction becomes reality” (I couldn’t resist), full-face transplants may be only 18 months away. The Observer reports that a team being assembled at the Royal Free Hospital in north London claim that grafting a new face onto another person is now possible using new microsurgical techniques. Four arteries and four veins would have to be harvested from the donor. A separate team of surgeons would remove facial muscles, skin and subcutaneous fat from the recipient. They would then attach the nerves that control movement and feeling in the face, and the blood vessels would be connected to the recipient’s vessels with microscopic stitches.
Obviously, such a procedure has ethical implications, which will be debated for the first time at the British Association of Plastic Surgery conference on Wednesday. Surgeons hope that the public can be won over when they understand that the procedure will only be for those who have suffered severe facial deformities from accidents, burns or cancer.