CDMRP-funded Physician Performs Historic Face Transplant Surgery

Posted October 30, 2019

A team of surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital successfully completed a face transplant for Mr. Robert Chelsea in July 2019. Mr. Chelsea, the first African American to undergo this life altering procedure, suffered severe burns in a 2013 car accident, but is now recovering well. As an African American, Mr. Chelsea’s case presented unique challenges for matching skin tone, but his story may encourage African Americans to become organ donors in greater numbers. See the story of this historic surgery in TIME Magazine here:

Mr. Chelsea’s transplant is the second to be performed under a Defense Medicine Research and Development Regenerative Medicine Clinical Trial Award led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who is investigating a novel way of modulating a patient’s immune response following the transplant using low-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2) therapy. This treatment involves the administration of IL-2 and the gradual minimization of the harsh immunosuppression agents that patients must typically take for life following these transplants to reduce the risk of graft rejection. Dr. Pomahac’s first patient received his face transplant in April 2018 and has been successfully weaned down to monotherapy with 6-8 ng/mL tacrolimus plus low dose IL-2. It has been nearly one year now with no episodes of acute rejection or complications from the immunosuppression regime to date. Mr. Chelsea will have the opportunity to participate in the IL-2 study when he meets specific milestones in his recovery process.  

"We cannot thank enough the Department of Defense for their support over the years, providing opportunities to patients with the worst facial deformities to start a new, better life," said Dr. Pomahac.

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Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022