A study released today in the Lancet looked at how two people reacted to face transplants. One 30-year old Chinese man had been attacked by a bear and the other 29-year old a large tumor which was severely disfiguring his jaw.

What’s interesting is that in both cases, their new faces nearly separated away from the existing skin. In the bear attack patient, the body’s immune system rejected the face after three, five and seventeen months after transplantation. Luckily these rejections were controlled by immunomodulatory drugs or the application of a steroid. No infection.

In the second case, the person’s body rejected the new face after one month and again after two months. He caught an infection from the donor face, but it was cleared up with heavy medications.

Both patients are going to be on immunosuppressives for the rest of their lives, which means increased risk of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, and other diseases. The side effects of these drugs are hypertension, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, peptic ulcers, liver, and kidney injury.

There’s also always the chance that the body will reject the face, which can happen even years after the initial transplant, which mean the patient would have to wait in hospital until a donor face became available.

Anyway, following the “success” of these two trials, other patients will now be assessed for face transplants.

Does anyone else find this disturbing?

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.