By Remy Servis

This week, doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas completed the world’s first partial skull and scalp transplant on Jim Boysen, a 55-year-old man from Austin. Since receiving a kidney-pancreas transplant 23 years ago, Mr. Boysen has been taking immunosuppressants to prevent rejection of the new organs. These drugs, while crucial to the quality of Mr. Boysen’s health after the initial transplant, began to affect the smooth muscle under his scalp. He developed a rare type of cancer, and the radiation therapy that was a part of his treatment left him with a large head wound that his body could not heal on its own. When it was determined that Boysen needed a new kidney and pancreas, the destroyed head tissue needed to be repaired first, before any further transplants could be considered.

An impressive team of doctors spent 15 hours attaching a large piece of scalp and skull generously given by the family of an organ donor. The complexity of the surgery was due to the expansive size of the graft, as well as the delicacy with which the blood vessels had to be reconnected.

This breakthrough in transplant technology is reminiscent of last year’s accomplishment in the Netherlands, where a woman at the University Medical Center Utrecht was given a new plastic scalp, printed by a 3D printer. This operation demonstrates the wide range of approaches that are currently being taken to maximize the ease with which faulty parts of our body can be replaced. Naturally, the difference between replacing individual tissues and full organs must be considered. However, with advances being made in transplantation for both types of structures, it looks as if the transplantation of everything from blood vessels to wombs will soon be perfected.

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