When scanning the health section of a news website, there’s a good chance you’ll find stories regarding new developments in the world of medicine. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since scientists are constantly looking to refine and improve upon medicine and medical technology. Some recent advances seem almost too incredible to believe. For example, surgeons recently attached noses to five volunteers – which were grown using their own cartilage.
Making New Cartilage
This experiment was conducted by researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland. Using a process known as tissue engineering, this group sought to create outer nostrils for five skin cancer patients, whose ages ranged from 76 and 88. Each of these subjects had their outer nostrils severely deformed by skin cancer surgery. As part of the procedure, the research team removed pieces of nasal cartilage from their volunteers. Though they were only a few millimeters in diameter, the samples would prove to be large enough to help build new noses.
The next step was to turn these small pieces of tissue into nostrils. To do this, the research team drew blood samples from each patient. This extracted blood was used to create a serum, which was then applied to each corresponding patient’s cartilage. Roughly two weeks later, the cartilage fragments were placed onto scaffolding made from collagen tissue. The researchers’ efforts to grow their samples were met with much success. Following another two week period, the samples had grown to forty times their original size.
Having sufficiently enlarged the cartilage, the researchers set about molding the tissue to meet the needs of their subjects. The nasal tissues were then surgically attached to each of the five volunteers. Though the grafts they received varied in size and shape, all five patients benefited greatly from the cartilage implants. A year after the surgeries, the volunteers reported that they were entirely satisfied with their new nostrils. Additionally, no side effects or adverse reactions were reported among the recipients.
The Next Step
There’s certainly good reason to be excited by the results of this experiment. For one thing, non-melanoma skin cancer is a growing problem. A 2010 study found that, among the Medicare fee-for-service population, procedures related to skin cancer increased nearly 77% from 1992 to 2006. Likewise, the nose is the most common part of the body affected by this disease.
Eventually, doctors might be able to use this technique to quickly create new tissues for patients. Skin cancer victims may not be the only beneficiaries of tissue engineering. The University of Basel team is currently attempting to produce cartilage for other areas of the body, such as the knees. This could greatly improve the long-term prognosis for those with tissue related diseases and injuries.
Unfortunately, before tissue engineering can become commonplace, researchers must find a way to make it both reliable and cost-effective. Furthermore, this treatment method may not be necessary for some patients, as doctors can currently repair and grow tissue using artificial implants. Such procedures can also be performed at a much lower cost. Despite these obstacles, the researchers are hopeful that their work will pave the way for major advances in the field of medicine.