in Beijing said they successfully transplanted a penis on
a man who lost his own in an accident but that they had to
remove it two weeks later because of psychological
problems experienced by the man.
The case appears to be the first such transplant
reported in a medical journal--European
Urology, published by the European Association of Urology.
The Chinese doctors could not be reached for
comment, and their report does not explain how the
44-year-old man lost his penis. It says only that "an
unfortunate traumatic accident" left him with a small
stump, unable to urinate or have sex normally.
Surgeons, led by Hu Weilie at Guangzhou General
Hospital, performed the transplant in September 2005,
a hospital spokesperson said Tuesday. The penis came
from a 22-year-old brain-dead man whose parents agreed to
donate his organ.
"There was a strong demand from both the patient
and his wife" for a transplant, and the operation "was
discussed again and again" and approved by the
hospital's ethics committee, Hu writes in the journal.
Despite how shocking and radical the operation
sounds, it involves standard microsurgery techniques
to reconnect blood vessels and nerves.
From a medical point of view, "the main hurdle
is the functional recovery," said W.P. Andrew Lee,
chief of plastic surgery at the University of
Pittsburgh Medical Center. From arm and leg reattachments,
it's known that nerve regrowth occurs at a rate of about an
inch a month and often is insufficient to allow normal
use, he said.
However, the ethical and psychological
challenges in such cases can be even more daunting, as
this and other recent transplants involving hands and
"Some of the considerations for a penile
transplant are the same as for a hand or face
transplant," such as the need to take lifelong
immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the new
organ, Lee said.
The drugs can cause kidney damage as well
as damage to other organs and systems, acceptable
risks when the transplant involves a vital organ such
as a liver or heart, but more ethically questionable when
the operation is aimed at improving quality of life
rather than extending it, Yoram Vardi, a neurology and
urology specialist at the Rambam Medical Center in
Haifa, Israel, writes in an accompanying commentary in the
Psychological issues are keenly important. The
world's first hand transplant recipient stopped taking
immunosuppressant drugs and later requested that the
hand be amputated.
Lee recalled speaking with the recipient of the
world's first double-hand transplant in France, who
told him it took months for him to accept his new
hands and stop referring to one as "it."
Fourteen days after the penis transplant, the
recipient requested that the organ be removed, the
surgeons report in the journal. Lab examination showed
no sign of rejection, the doctors report.
If adequate attention had been paid to the need
for counseling and other psychological concerns
surrounding the transplant, "the need for penile
amputation could probably have been avoided," Vardi wrote in
his commentary. (AP)