FRENCH surgeons have performed the world's first partial face transplant - giving a new nose, chin and lips to a woman savaged by a dog.
Specialists from two French hospitals carried out the operation on a 38-year-old woman on Sunday in the northern city of Amiens by grafting on tissues, muscles, arteries and veins from a brain-dead woman.
'The patient is in an excellent state and the transplant looks normal,' the hospitals said in a brief statement after waiting a few days to announce the pioneering surgery.
The woman, who was not identified, had been left without a nose and lips after the dog attacked her last May, and was unable to talk or chew properly.
The statement did not say what the woman would look like when she had fully recovered, but medical experts said she was unlikely to resemble the donor.
The operation was led by Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard, a specialist from a hospital in Lyon who has also carried out hand transplants, and Dr Bernard Devauchelle from the Amiens hospital.
Mr Stephen Wigmore, chair of the British Transplantation Society's ethics committee, said teams in France, the United States and Britain had been developing techniques to make face transplants a reality.
Skin transplants have long been used to treat burns and other injuries, but operations around the mouth and nose have been considered very difficult because of the area's high sensitivity to foreign tissue.
Dr Iain Hutchins, a facial surgeon and head of the research charity Saving Faces - The Facial Surgery Research Foundation said that although such medical advances should be celebrated, the transplant had thrown up moral and ethical issues.
'This was a 'quality of life' operation rather than a life-saving operation and has many implications for the recipient's and donor's families,' he said.
There was a short-term risk for the patient if blood vessels became blocked, a medium-term danger of her body rejecting the donor tissue and a long-term possibility that the drugs used in the operation could cause cancers.
'She could be back to square one, without a face, needing further reconstruction operations,' he said.
- Wire services.