Reflections on a Decade of Face Transplantation

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On November 27, 2005, Isabelle Dinoire underwent the world's first partial face transplant in Amiens (France) after a dog attack had left her face severely disfigured. The abrupt surgical leap found the medical community and society unprepared to deal with the scientific, ethical, and societal implications of a surgical procedure that was striving to transition from sci-fi novels to science. Today, 10 years and over 35 transplants later, public opinion has become accustomed to the concept of “face restoration” through transplantation. However, face transplantation is far from being a safe “routine” surgery and the science behind it is still mostly unknown. Patients and multidisciplinary teams of physicians confront daily medical challenges, life-threatening risks, and personal struggle that only in part come to light. Could (or should) this be the laborious, uncertain, and high-risk trajectory of disruptive medical innovation? Over the last decade, some medical discoveries and surgical advancements in the field have been closely accompanied by partial regulatory frameworks, intense ethical discussions, and meaningful changes in social beliefs across cultures and continents. Yet, a very long way is to come and the questions we still have today greatly outweigh the answers we can offer. Here, we take the chance of the 10-year anniversary of face transplantation to reflect on the path traveled and to look forward to the challenges lying ahead.

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