For many years, I have followed news in the fields of organ transplantation, limb transplantation and face transplantation with keen interest. Each year, achievements in those fields become evermore impressive. The use of immunosuppressants is also becoming safer and more strategic.
Scientists and doctors in countries as dispersed as China, India, Japan, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and the US all seem to be producing groundbreaking results and innovations in the field of transplantation.
Worldwide Face, Organ and Limb Transplants
Most developing countries do not have sizable local biotech and other new-age industries. However, the vast majority 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. This enables local doctors and surgeons to gain significant experience in organ 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. The world’s first face transplant was done in Spain in 2010. China has also achieved some significant milestones in face transplants. It is supposedly also the first country where a penis transplant was successfully undertaken. Unfortunately, the patient did not want it after all that hard work and stress! You can read about the latest developments in Japan towards the bottom of this post.
One frequent question on hair loss forums is why people with significant balding and limited donor hair do not get hair transplants in which the donor hair comes from another person. Update: see allogeneic hair transplantation success.
The reason given is that in order for such a procedure to be successful, one would have to take immunosuppressive drugs (i.e., anti-rejection medicine) for a lifetime. This is not a risk worth taking for a cosmetic problem such as hair loss. Perhaps person-to-person hair transplants are also far more complex, since each hair being moved is a unique organ?
Immunosuppressants after Organ Transplants
Like almost anyone else, I feel that taking immunosuppressive drugs to get hair transplanted from another person was foolish. However, recently, I started getting curious as to how dangerous these immunosuppressive drugs really turn out to be.
Do people below the age of 65 die more frequently from diseases and infections after organ transplantation? Is it because their immune systems become weaker when they are on immunosuppressants?
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.
It should also be noted that scientists have increasingly improved strategies in having organ transplant recipients taper off high-dose immunosuppressants. Not to mention the availability of new drugs, biologics and immunosupresssants.
Interesting Organ, Limb and Face Transplant Results
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 immunosuppressant drugs throughout his or her life. Usually 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.