The UK face transplantation team has been given permission to perform a series of full face transplant operations at the Royal Free Hospital in North London. The independent research ethics committee for the Royal Free delivered its decision to team leader, plastic and reconstruction surgeon, Mr Peter Butler, who said he was delighted with the news.
?We can now begin to evaluate patients and draw up a shortlist of four people who want to undergo this procedure,? he said. ?We will continue to take a cautious and careful approach and we will not be rushed. It may be many months before we are ready to carry out an operation,? said Mr Butler.
?This is a very new and important way of helping people with terrible facial injuries such as burns and we will continue to take infinite care to ensure the best results,? he said. ?And although the surgery will happen at the Royal Free, the findings of our research will be shared for the benefit of patients worldwide.?
Andrew Way, the chief executive of the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, said the decision to give the go-ahead was taken after the most detailed scrutiny of the results of over 10 years? research by Mr Butler?s team. ?Once again a team from the Royal Free is involved in pioneering medicine,? he said. ?Groundbreaking research is always difficult and there will always be doubters and detractors,? said Mr Way.
?However, there are many people with severe injuries for whom current surgical methods are not adequate and who desperately need help. Face transplantation has been shown to be a successful treatment elsewhere and our team will now be able to begin the latest and most difficult phase of their work,? he said.
Mr Way said the work of the face transplantation team was well supported within the infrastructure of the Royal Free, where transplantation medicine is already a significant speciality with an international reputation.
The Face Trust, a new charity, has launched an appeal for funding for the operations and continuing research. It needs to raise at least ?25,000 to pay for each operation, the drugs for each patient and for continuing research.
NHS Research Ethics Committees (RECs) have been established throughout the UK for many years with the purpose of safeguarding the rights, dignity and welfare of people participating in research in the NHS. Potential research participants at NHS organisations in the UK will come under the protection of a REC. The REC is entirely independent of the researcher and the organisations funding and hosting the research. The members of a REC are specially trained in research ethics and often have experience which will be useful in scrutinising the ethical aspects of a research proposal. These include: patients; members of the public; nurses; GPs; hospital doctors; statisticians; pharmacists and academics, as well as people with specific ethical expertise gained through a legal, philosophical or theological background. There are currently around 185 NHS RECs in the UK.