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U.S. may regulate hand, face, other complex transplants

The U.S. government has proposed rules that could lead to the regulation of face and hand transplants, the Associated Press reported Thursday -- possibly making the tissues more widely available to needy patients.

The proposed rules, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, would add vascularized composite allografts to the list of tissues delivered through the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which manages the organ donation waiting list and matches organs to recipients, among other tasks.

According to this Emory University website, vascularized composite allotransplantation involves transplanting multiple tissues (such as skin, muscle, bone, nerves and blood vessels) as a functional unit. Hand and face transplants are just a couple of examples of such procedures; according to the AP report, transplants of other limbs and tissues like windpipes, tracheas and even penises or uteruses, would also fall under the new rules.

The changes should allow hospitals that perform the procedures to find better matches between donors and recipients, the report added.

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Los Angeles Times reporter Shari Roan covered a March 2011 hand transplant performed at UCLA -- the first such operation in California. Emily Fennell, 26, had lost her right hand in a car accident in 2006. She received her new hand in a 14-hour procedure at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s hand transplantation center.

After just six weeks, Fennell was in occupational therapy and working on grasping items. Earlier this week, she rode on a Rose Bowl float and waved to the crowds with her new hand.

For more on face transplants, visit Booster Shots for Jeannine Stein’s blog on a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine that described the progress of three face transplant patients. (See related items list, at left.)

Return to the Booster Shots blog.


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