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Who Nose What’s Next for Cartilage Engineering?

Scientists out of the University of Basel have reported the first-ever successful nose reconstruction utilizing cartilage grown in a laboratory. Cartilage cells were taken from a patient’s own septum, and through extensive laboratory techniques, were multiplied and expanded onto a collagen membrane.  This technique for growing cartilage from a patient’s own cells is known as tissue engineering, and researchers are excited about its many potential applications.

This new technique was applied to 5 patients between the ages of 75 and 88, who suffered severe nasal defects from surgical tumor removal.  After one year with the engineered cartilage, the patients reported satisfaction with their breathing abilities and cosmetic appearance.

Rather than harvesting samples of cartilage from other parts of the body, such as the ears and ribs, to reconstruct the nose, the new tissue engineering method offers a significantly less invasive option for repairing damage from surgery.  With the removal of a small biopsy of septum chondrocytes (cartilage cells), scientists were able to generate cartilage 40X the size of the biopsy with just 2 weeks of cellular expansion. The engineered cartilage was then shaped to accommodate the nasal defect.

But scientists in Basal agree that this is no time to stop and smell the roses, because this method of tissue engineering has just opened up the flood gates of possibilities, and it will likely take teams of scientists and extensive hours to perfect the science. However, researchers are optimistic about potential uses in “more challenging reconstructions in facial surgery such as the complete nose, eyelid or ear”. This same method of tissue engineering is also being investigated for orthopedic use and growth of articular cartilage in the knee.  The idea of growing cartilage in the knee would be a dream come true for the millions of patients suffering from arthritis and degenerative joint diseases, but It will take much more collaboration and research for that regenerative potential to come to fruition.

Although scientists and science fiction fans alike are optimistic about the possibility of growing new body parts, the use of such procedures in clinical practice is most certainly in the distant future.  However, the recent cartilage engineering for nose reconstruction does smell a bit like success in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

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