In Need of a New Nostril? Scientists Can Grow One From Your Cartilage

Researchers in Switzerland just performed the first reconstructive nasal surgery using lab-grown cartilage

Photo: Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel

​Patients in need of a new nose now have a new option for recovering some of the missing or damaged parts. Researchers from the University of Basel just announced that they successfully grew cartilage from five different patients and used it for the first nose reconstructive surgeries that integrated lab-grown connective tissue. Eventually, the team thinks the method could be applied for other cartilage-bearing body parts, including eyelids, ears and knee caps.

The cartilage used to rebuild the patient's noses was grown from their own cells, following a process called tissue engineering. The cartilage cells, which are taken from the nasal septum, are first isolated from other cell types and then grown in the lab. When enough of them accumulate, they are planted onto a collagen membrane, which can be formed into whatever shape the researchers desire. Finally, they are further refined and implanted into the patient.

The five patients involved in the trial all suffered from nose damage—mostly to their nostrils—after receiving surgery for skin cancer. To rebuild that lost tissue, surgeons would usually borrow cartilage from the ribs or ears. But this procedure is not ideal, since it requires an additional surgery and entails sacrificing cartilage in other parts of the body. The new reconstructive procedure using the lab-grown cartilage worked just as well as the traditional method, the researchers report, but it skipped that invasive step. A year after the surgery, they continue, all five of the patients are happy with their new noses and report no problems, breathing-related or otherwise.

"This new technique could help the body to accept the new tissue better," the researchers said in a statement. "The method opens the way to using engineered cartilage for more challenging reconstructions in facial surgery such as the complete nose, eyelid or ear.”

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