A 53-year-old man lost his nose due to cancer, so scientists are attempting something pretty amazing — they're trying to grow a replacement nose for him in a lab. Although this isn't the first story of its kind, each phase of this multi-step process is increasingly fascinating and a true example of creative imaginings from science fiction turning into real-life medical solutions.
Professor Alex Seifalian is one among a team of researchers at University College London working to "regrow" the nose this cancer victom lost due to illness. "We've got two noses growing, just in case someone drops one," the professor said. That sure inspires confidence!
A cast was made of his original nose before it was surgically removed. Then, another mold was made out of glass and a sprayed-on polymer scaffold. Third, bone marrow cells are grown in the lab, added to two identical nose-shaped polymer scaffolds ("just in case someone drops one", remember), and then they are both put into a large rotating container called a bioreactor. The molds are left in the bioreactor for two weeks at 98.6 degrees to encourage cells to grow over the entire scaffold.
Now here's where it gets even more interesting. According to Professor Seifalian, "We can make the nose, but we can't make the skin." So, the scaffold is actually implanted under the skin of the patient's arm after it's done in the bioreactor. However, before that happens, a small balloon is placed under the patient's arm skin and is periodically inflated to encourage stretching. Then, the nose is implanted and stays put for four to six weeks to develop a blood supply. Lastly, the nose is removed and attached to the patient's face.
Let's hear it for regenerative medicine!
Microscope image Credit: lightpoet/Shutterstock