First voicebox transplant in the UK within a few months

The first voicebox transplant in the UK could be carried out within months, after experts gave the surgery the go-ahead.

The operation should help patients who have problems swallowing, breathing and speaking because their voicebox - also known as the larynx - has been destroyed by cancer or in an accident.

Experts at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) have assessed the surgery and have now given their approval for it to be carried out in the UK.

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It follows two previous operations which were performed on patients in the US.

Surgeons in London now believe they could carry out the surgery in a matter of months.

About 1,000 Britons a year have their voiceboxes destroyed and until now have had to live with the problems this leads to.

However, following pioneering work in the United States, it now seems that a transplant from a donor could make their lives easier.

Last October, an American woman, Brenda Jensen, became the first in the world to have a combined voicebox and windpipe transplant.

The first ever transplant was carried out in Ohio in 1998 on Timothy Heidler, whose voicebox was damaged in a motorbike accident.

The RCS, in a report on the ethics, technical evidence and patient support required for the surgery to be carried out in the UK, said the operation could improve quality of life.

Professor Martin Birchall, of University College London, is set to lead a team who will carry out the procedure once the right patients and donors were found.

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He was delighted by the RCS findings and, with the right preparations, a transplant could take place early next year.

Patients undergo rigorous psychological assessment for the transplant and need a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs to stop their body rejecting the organ.

"We have been working on this for a long time and this report gives us the green light to go ahead," Prof Birchall said.

"It also gives us guidance on aspects such as psychological assessment. It is an incredibly balanced report. We have a couple of patients who would be good recipients, and this news will lead to more referrals.

"As well as cancer, voicebox damage can be caused by things such as swallowing caustic materials when young.

"Road traffic accidents are also a common cause."

The RCS report also considers issues such as how a patient would sound after a transplant, but said it was unclear what the result would be.

Professor Tony Narula, chairman of the RCS working group, said: "This presents exciting opportunities for treating conditions and improving quality of life in ways that simply were not possible in the past."