A LEADING scientist and television presenter has warned Mark Cahill, the recipient of Britain's first hand transplant operation, that he might well be better off without it.
Professor Robert Winston, a qualified surgeon who helped carry out the first hand transplant attempt in Belgium in 1975, said previous operations had shown most such transplants resulted in "a largely 'dead hand'" that "caused huge inconvenience".
He was speaking after surgeons at Leeds General Infirmary operated on Mr Cahill (51) a grandfather and former publican from Halifax, to replace his right hand after gout and infection. Mr Cahill has said he is delighted with his "brand new hand", but Prof Winston expressed doubts.
"There have been a number of hand transplants which showed that, even when nerves and vessels and tendons were all carefully joined up under a microscope, these transplanted hands were very limited and most often caused huge inconvenience to the recipient because of lack of function – essentially a largely 'dead hand' at the end of an arm," he said.
"I really can't see this is much of a breakthrough given that a donor hand has extra inconvenience and complications – not least of which is the serious risk of rejection in spite of the need to take powerful and risky immunosuppressive drugs."
However, Mr Cahill believed the hand would be a big improvement and he might even be able to return to work.
"I've made slight movement now, my feeling is just starting to come back, but everything is looking very very good," he said.
"Long term I won't have 100pc use of it, but it's early days and we don't know exactly how much.
"Hopefully I'll be able to get back to work; that's a major difference. For a start I might be able to cut my food up, button my shirt, fasten a pair of shoe laces."
He added: "Mainly I'll be able to hold my grandson's hand."
Other leading medics have congratulated the Leeds team, lead by consultant plastic surgeon, Professor Simon Kay.
Professor Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "This is yet another example of life-changing surgical advancements. New surgical techniques together with a greater understanding of organ rejection are making an ever-wider range of transplants possible."
Prof Kay said the project "was an extremely complex procedure scientifically, ethically and politically" but if Mr Cahill's new limb proves an enduring success, he hopes to carry out more hand transplants, and already has another patient awaiting an operation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)