The U.S. government wants to start regulating face and hand transplants just as it does now with kidneys, hearts and other organs, with waiting lists, a nationwide system to match and distribute body parts and donor testing to prevent deadly infections.
It's a big step toward expanding access to these radical operations, especially for wounded troops returning home. A dozen U.S. hospitals already do face or hand transplants and more are preparing to offer the operations. More than 1,000 troops have lost an arm or leg in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the government estimates that 200 troops might be eligible for face transplants.
"These body parts are starting to become more mainstream, if you will, than they were five or 10 years ago when they were first pioneered in this country," said Dr. James Bowman, medical director of the Health Resources Services Administration, the government agency that regulates organ transplants.
The agency has proposed new rules that expand the regulation of transplants to include faces, hands and other body parts. Waiting lists for these body parts are informal and local now. The new rule would make such transplants part of the nationwide matching system run by the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS.
The rules would regulate transplants of feet, ankles, legs, fingers, windpipes, voice boxes, the abdominal wall and possibly even a uterus or a penis -- operations tried at least once in other countries.