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Notable Moments in Limb and Face Transplant History

In 2008, surgeons completed two procedures that could forever change transplant surgery. In August, doctors in Munich announced that a farmer was recovering from a double-arm transplant—the first double-arm transplant in the world. In December, the Cleveland Clinic announced they'd replaced about 80 percent of a woman's face. Many surgeons think that arm, hand, and face replacements are the next logical steps in transplants. Is the world ready?

Being first isn't always best

In 1964, physicians around the world were attempting transplants of all kinds when doctors in Ecuador performed the first hand transplant. Unfortunately, like early organ transplants, it didn't work—within two weeks the hand was rejected and doctors had to remove it.

Being second isn't much better

In 1998, doctors performed delicate microsurgery on New Zealander Clint Hallam. For 13 hours at Edouard Herriot Hospital, an international team of scientists led by French surgeon Jean Michel Dubernard stitched a cadaver's forearm and hand to Hallam's upper arm. Completing the hand transplant required microsurgery skills and patience—doctors knitted medial nerve to medial nerve, radial artery to radial artery, radius to radius. Like with other transplants, both donor and recipient must share the same blood type.

After years of studying transplant pioneers and earning a PhD based in xenographs research (he transplanted organs from one species of monkeys to another), Dubernard felt he was prepared to perform a hand transplant on a human. When he was unable to find a suitable French candidate, an Australian colleague recommended Hallam. Fourteen years earlier, Hallam had lost his forearm in a circular saw accident. It was later revealed the accident actually occurred in jail and that Hallam was a longtime con-man.

hands.jpgCritics claimed that Dubernard performed the surgery for the media attention, but the surgeon argued he and his staff did a thorough psychological evaluation of Hallam as well as a background check. (Unsurprisingly, Dubernard had a role in the first partial face transplant, also surrounded by controversy.)

At first, the forearm and hand worked well for Hallam, although he hated that the donor limb was larger than his other arm and a different skin tone. He hid his freak arm as much as he could. Hallam's arm wasn't just grotesque-looking, though; it began itching and flaking, and he was plagued daily by pins and needles. He begged the doctors to remove it, but they refused. Hallam felt emotionally detached from his hand. Finally, a group of British surgeons agreed to remove the limb in 2001. The physicians from France claimed the only reason Hallam's arm rejected is because he failed to take his immunosuppressant drugs and exercise it.

From hands to a face

Frenchwoman Isabella Dinore received the first partial face transplant in 2005.

After taking too many sleeping pills, Dinore had passed out. As she lay unconscious on the floor, her black Lab chewed off her nose, mouth, and lower face. Without lips, muscles, and skin on the bottom half of her jaw, Dinore struggled to speak and eat—she had to eat through a tube. Physicians couldn't help her with traditional plastic surgery and thus felt she would be a good candidate for a face transplant.

Bernard Devauchelle, a French maxillofacial surgeon at Lyon University, saw a picture of a brain-dead woman with a mouth, nose, and lips similar to Dinore's features. He removed a triangle of Maryline St. Aubert's skin with its arteries, nerves, and veins and spent hours graphing the skin onto Dinore's face.

Dinore.jpgIt was rumored St. Aubert was brain-dead because she tried to kill herself. Many people thought Dinore had attempted suicide, too. Dubernard, who had worked alongside Devauchelle in the surgery, argued Dinore accidentally overdosed. Physicians criticized the decision to give a suicidal woman a face transplant. People once again alleged Dubernard had performed the surgery for media attention—Corbis had an exclusive deal for photos—and some urged an ethics investigation.

Dubernard oversaw Dinore's recovery. Shortly after the surgery, he injected some of St. Aubert's stem cells (from her bone marrow) into Dinore in the hopes her body wouldn't reject the transplant, but the stem cell infusion failed. Dinore suffered two bouts of rejection, contracted herpes and a pox virus, and struggled with kidney failure.

A year later, Dinore appeared in the media, showing off her new face. She used her new lips to smoke again.

Full-face transplant

Coler.jpgLaurent Lantieri, head of plastic surgery at Henri-Mondor Hospital in France, spent 16 hours stitching new lips, cheeks, nose, and mouth to Pascal Coler's face. Since Coler was six years old, large masses had been growing on his nerves because of a condition called neurofibromatosis. As the masses increased in size, Coler's face became less recognizable. Strangers pointed at him because of his misshapen visage.

The large masses compressed the nerves, arteries, and fat in Coler's face, causing lasting damage; the transplanted cadaver's face stops the masses from developing. Lantieri didn't alter Coler's bone structure, so Coler looks as he would if he never had the disease.

What the doctors say

When a patient receives a lung or a liver, the body's white blood cells attack the new organ because the body believes it is an invader. That's why immunosuppressant drugs are so important for transplant patients: immunosuppressants mollify the immune system. When a transplant includes so many different tissues, organs, veins, arteries, nerves, fat, and bones, the body targets the limb even more ferociously than it attacks one organ—the white blood cells believe the more transplanted tissue means there are more invaders.

In 2007, a study was published with the results of 18 transplants of 24 hands/digits/forearms. (11 folks received one hand, four received two hands, two received two forearms, and one received one thumb.) The good news: limb transplantation has a 100 percent survival rate. (In the early days of organ transplantation, most patients died.) And graph survival is also 100 percent for the first two years. The bad news: 12 patients suffered acute rejection and six Chinese recipients had their hands removed. All patients had enough nerve function in their new limbs that they knew when they were hurt, but few used fine motor skills or had sophisticated nerve function.

Some experts wonder if limb transplants should be conducted when prosthetic limbs are available. Fifteen people in the 2007 study said the limbs improved their quality of life, but many suffer with lingering problems from the immunosuppressant drugs, kidney failure, diabetes, and infections.

One thing is certain, though: Dubernard won't be performing any more limb transplants. He reached the maximum age to practice medicine in France.

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The American Museum of Natural History
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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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NASA/JPL-Caltech
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More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in our solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last month, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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