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French doctors perform 2nd face transplant on man in his 40s

media The Hôtel Dieu Hospital in Paris REUTERS/Charles Platiau

For the first time in transplant history doctors have replaced one donor face with another, according to Olivier Bastien of France's biomedicine agency.

The recipient, in his 40s, went under the knife at a Paris hospital on Monday, for a procedure that lasted nearly a full day, according to a joint press statement issued by the biomedicine agency and the AP-HP public hospital system.

The man's original graft, rejected after seven years, had been removed in an operation on 30 November and he was kept on life support in an induced coma until the follow-up procedure.

"This graft shows for the first time ... that retransplantation is possible in the case of chronic rejection" of a donor face, said the statement.

It will be several weeks before doctors can say whether the second graft has taken.

A transplant can help patients with basic tasks such as breathing, eating and speaking, and restores non-verbal communication through smiles and frowns.

But it also means a lifelong reliance on immunosuppressant medicines, to stop the body rejecting the foreign organ. These drugs can leave a person vulnerable to infections and cancers.

It is a rare procedure with fewer than 40 operations performed to date.

At least six patients have died.

French woman Isabelle Dinoire was the first person in the world to undergo a partial face transplant.

She underwent a 15-hour operation in November 2005 in which surgeons transplanted the nose, lips and chin from a brain-dead donor at a hospital in Amiens.

She died of cancer at the age of 49 in April 2016.

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