For many years, I have followed news in the fields of organ transplantation, limb transplantation, face transplantation and hair transplantation with keen interest. Each year, achievements in those fields become evermore impressive. More significantly, scientists and doctors in countries as dispersed as China, India, Japan, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and the US all seem to produce some groundbreaking results and innovations in the field of transplantation.
While most countries do not have sizable local biotech, nanotech and other new-age industries, the vast majority of countries in the world have numerous hospitals, usually including at least several world class ones. Poor citizens in third world countries often have no choice other than to get transplants at local hospitals, thus enabling local doctors and surgeons to gain significant experience in transplantation. In the field of heart transplantation, India is especially important. In the field of full face transplantation, while the US leads the way, Turkey is also very important and the world’s first one was done in Spain in 2010. China has also achieved some significant milestones in face transplants, and is supposedly the first country where a penis transplant was successfully undertaken (albeit the patient did not want it after all that hard work)! You can read about the latest developments in Japan towards the bottom of this post.
Person-to-Person Hair Transplants and Immunosupressive Drugs
One of the questions that often comes up in hair loss forums is why people with significant balding and limited donor hair can not get hair transplants in which the donor hair comes from another person (recently dead or alive I presume)? The reason given is that in order for such a procedure to be successful, one would have to take immunosupressive drugs (i.e., anti-rejection medicine) for a lifetime. This is not a risk worth taking for a cosmetic problem such as hair loss, even if for some people, this is more than a cosmetic concern. Perhaps person-to-person hair transplants are also far more complex if each hair being moved is classified as a unique organ!?
Like almost anyone else, I always felt (and still feel) that taking immunosupressive drugs to get hair transplanted from another person was foolish. However, recently, I started getting curious as to how dangerous these immunosupressive drugs really are. Do people below the age of say 65 die more frequently from diseases and infections after organ transplantation because their immune systems become weaker when they are on immunosupressants?
Although I could not find too much information on fatalities, there are quite a few sites with warnings about side effects of taking these drugs. A large number of side effects are not especially dangerous, but there are some warnings of potential higher risks of cancer. However, this correlation with higher rates of cancer is not entirely clear cut.
Interesting Organ, Limb and Face Transplant Results and Stories
The duration of time for which organ transplants last has in general gone up for all organ types over the years. Some of the unexpectedly long-lasting results are particularly interesting, especially when considering that the patient has to take immunosuppresant drugs throughout his/her life (albeit at a lower dose after the first year or so post transplant).
Some of my favorite recent transplant related stories:
When it comes to the heart, Dick Cheney should be inspirational to all. Money and access to great surgeons helps of course, but rather then being envious, for the sake of science I hope that this man lives many more years. A good post transplant interview with Cheney.