Transplanted faces seem to age faster than normal, a new study suggests.
More than 30 face transplants have been performed worldwide, but there is little information about recipients’ long-term outcomes, the researchers said.
In this study, three full-face transplant patients were followed for three years. They had a significant decrease in facial volume that resembled premature aging, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.
This change in appearance was the result of bone and muscle loss rather than the reduced facial fat or skin thickness that occurs in normal aging of the face, said Pomahac, who in 2011 led the first full-face transplant in the United States.
The study was published online Dec. 3 in the American Journal of Transplantation.
The findings show the need to find ways to prevent, delay or reverse muscle and bone loss in face transplant patients, Pomahac said.
“The field of face transplantation is young, and we are all learning about our interventions and their outcomes,” Pomahac said. “We studied why transplanted faces seem to age fast as well as we could, but we don’t really know many other things: When does this process end? Is it possibly a sign of inadequate blood supply or ongoing rejection?”
As often occurs in science, he added, the study raises more questions than it answers.
Pomahac said this research is important in terms of patient expectations and may affect how surgeons plan face transplants.
“But first we have to understand what’s exactly going on, and we are not there yet,” he concluded.
The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has more about face transplantation.