Facial transplantation: history and update

Acta Chir Belg. Mar-Apr 2015;115(2):99-103. doi: 10.1080/00015458.2015.11681077.


Background: Composite tissue allografting (CTA) represents the essence of reconstructive surgery, combining principles of solid organ transplantation (SOT) and modern plastic surgery techniques. The purpose of this article is to give a review of the history of facial CTA and an update of the cases that have been operated so far worldwide.

Methods: A systematic review of the medical literature was performed. Ten relevant publications were selected and analyzed for clinical data of the patients, surgical aspects of transplantation, complications and outcome.

Results: The past 9 years, 31 face transplants have been performed worldwide. The main indication was posttraumatic deformity. In all cases standard triple drug immunosuppression as used in SOT was successfully used and at least 1 period of acute rejection was seen in all patients, controllable with conventional immunosuppressive regimens. Overall functional outcomes are good and satisfaction rate is high, surpassing initial expectations. The main complications are opportunistic infections; 4 deaths occurred.

Conclusions: Facial CTA is a life changing procedure and has led to new treatment options for patients with complex, devastating and otherwise unreconstructable facial deformities to restore appearance and overall wellbeing in a single operation. The key to success lies in the selection of the appropriate patient, who is stable, well-motivated and therapy compliant. Thorough screening and follow-up by a multidisciplinary team, well prepared surgical approach and intensive, early rehabilitation are all crucial factors for minimizing complications and a safe and rapid recovery.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Facial Transplantation / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans