University of Maryland Completes Most Extensive Face Transplant To Date

A talented team at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland recently completed the most extensive full face transplant to date, including both jaws, teeth and tongue. The 36-hour operation occurred in mid-March and was led by Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., D.D.S., associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Shock Trauma Center. The actual surgery involved a multi-disciplinary team of faculty physicians from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a team of more than 150 nurses and professional staff. 

“We utilized innovative surgical practices and computerized techniques to precisely transplant the mid-face, maxilla and mandible including teeth and a portion of the tongue. In addition, the transplant included all facial soft tissue from the scalp to the neck, including the underlying muscles to enable facial expression, and sensory and motor nerves to restore feeling and function,” explains Dr. Rodriguez. “Our goal is to restore function as well as have aesthetically pleasing results.”

“This accomplishment is the culmination of more than 10 years researching the immune system’s response to vascular composite allograft transplants,” says Stephen T. Bartlett, M.D., Peter Angelos distinguished professor and chair of the department of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and surgeon-in-chief at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Our solid organ transplant immunosuppressive protocol has led to excellent outcomes for our patients and will be part of the long-term care plan for the face transplant patient.” The scientific team that included Drs. Bartlett, Rolf Barth and Rodriguez focused on the anatomic and immunologic challenges to craniofacial transplantation.

Grant funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in the Department of Defense to Dr. Bartlett has supported the University of Maryland basic and clinical research program in vascularized composite transplantation that can mean face, hand or limbs. The ONR funds medical research to support military operational medicine and clinical care of returning veterans. 

This face transplant was part of a 72-hour marathon of transplant activity following one anonymous family’s decision to donate their loved one’s organs. Ultimately five lives were saved. Four of the transplants from this one donor, including a heart and a liver transplant, took place over the course of two days at the University of Maryland Medical Center.