Good news for us ugly people!
Brits ready for face off
By Isabel Oakeshott, Evening Standard
Ten British people have put their names forward to become the first in the world to undergo a face transplant.
Details on plans for the pioneering operation will be announced by surgeons within days.
Teams on both sides of the Atlantic are now confident they have the skills to attempt the operation.
Surgeons insist the procedure, which involves transplanting an entire face from a corpse to a living person, will only be available for patients with the most severe facial disfigurements - and not as a cosmetic vanity treatment.
The team leading the project in the UK hopes to begin carrying out medical and psychological assessments on the 10 possible candidates early next year.
But the proposal has already sparked huge controversy, with the Royal College of Surgeons preparing to raise new concerns this week.
Their reservations could delay the British team for months - allowing Americans to make the first attempt. A source close to the UK team said: "Things are coming together. It is exciting. There are important hurdles to overcome but things are moving forward."
Momentum for the operation is gathering pace after years of painstaking groundwork. Plastic surgeon Peter Butler, who will lead any UK attempt, believes the radical procedure offers remarkable new hope for patients with very severe facial disfigurements, particularly burns.
Mr Butler, based at London's Royal Free Hospital, argues that the surgery could transform the lives of patients whose appearance cannot be improved using established techniques.
The Royal College of Surgeons set up a working party to consider its views on the operation amid a fierce public debate over the operation earlier this year.
In a key report to be published on 19 November, members will highlight a catalogue of concerns - focusing on the huge psychologicaland emotional difficulties patients associated with having a dead person's face.
Insiders say it is likely to take months for the British team to address the findings - allowing American colleagues to overtake.
The American attempt is being led by John Barker, director of plastic surgery research at Louisville University, in Kentucky.
Next week he will fly to London to reveal the latest on his team's progress at a high-profile debate on face transplants to be held at the Science Museum.
He said today: "We are very optimistic about being able to go ahead with this operation in the near future."
The biggest obstacle for the UK and American teams will be satisfying critics that the procedure is ethical. Although the Royal College does not have the power to block the operation in Britain, its report will form the basis for discussionsby an ethics committee at the Royal Free Hospital, where the proposed face transplant would take place.
The committee - made up of doctors and lay members - will advise hospital bosses whether to allow Mr Butler to operate.
If they agree, surgeons would carefully remove the face of a donor within 24 hours of death and graft it on to the patient.
The survey - expected to be published in a leading medical journal next month - suggests that, in practice, surgeons will have difficulties in finding a suitable donor. A source said: "There aren't many people who like the thought of donating their own face, or agreeing to allow a relative's face to be used."
Face transplants have featured in a number of films including the 1997 Hollywood thriller Face/Off, when an FBI agent "borrows" the face of a criminal.