SHANGHAI - A severely disfigured 22-year-old Chinese woman became the new face of a so-called "China-style" reconstructive surgery technique last month.
Extensive burns and injuries had left the young woman, whose identity has not been made public, unable to smile, speak or see properly.
She underwent more than 10 procedures, which used stem cells from her skin to grow a new face, including a nose and a mouth. Now, she is able to smile and bat her eyelashes more naturally.
The same surgery has been performed on more than 60 patients. They included seven who needed major facial changes or a full face replacement, of which six were successful while the seventh died.
The Chinese technique offers a viable alternative to the Western approach of transplanting parts of a dead person, for instance, the face, onto a patient.
Dr Li Qingfeng led a team from Shanghai's No. 9 Public Hospital, renowned in China for its plastic surgery expertise, in developing the new technology over the past decade.
Using the patient's own skin raises the chances of a successful recovery after surgery.
"Transplanting a different person's tissues into a patient may cause his immunity to sickness to decline, while increasing the possibility of infection and even cancer," said Dr Li, who heads the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
It is not easy to harvest dead people's faces, and the recipients may also find it mentally and emotionally difficult to accept the transplant.
"Our technology also addresses such ethical and psychological issues," Dr Li said.
In a treatment process that lasted up to eight months, Dr Li's team transferred blood vessels from the young woman's thigh to her upper chest.
There, a ball-size piece of skin was developed to create a face, and her stem cells were injected to strengthen the skin and generate more blood vessels.
Soft bones were transplanted to form such features as the nose and upper jawline. The new face was then transplanted onto the woman.
The technology, which gets funding and support from the Chinese authorities, will be rolled out to help victims disfigured in fires, accidents or natural disasters.
It has also attracted attention from abroad, including doctors from the United States and Japan, after the team presented its work at an annual cosmetic surgery congress in China last month.
"Chinese-style face change has opened a new road, but there is still much more progress to be made," said Dr Li.
How it works
1. In a treatment process that lasted up to eight months, Dr Li Qingfeng's team transferred blood vessels from a young woman's thigh to her upper chest.
2. There, a ball-size piece of skin was developed to create a face, and her stem cells were injected to strengthen the skin and generate more blood vessels.
3. Soft bones were transplanted to form such features as the nose and upper jawline.
4. The new face was then transplanted onto the woman.
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