Last summer, the first synthetic organ-- a windpipe -- was grown in laboratory setting and transplanted into a patient. Now, the University College London’s (UCL) Department of Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine is taking on another "world first:" growth of a nose.
Warren Pole for the Daily Mail recently got a tour of the lab where he saw the nanotechnology-driven little shop of synthetic human body parts first hand. Led on the tour by Professor Alexander Seifalian, Pole describes seeing a transplant nose and ear growing in "red goo."
Lab team member Adelola Oseni explains to Pole that while others have tried to tackle synthetic organs before, the material used doesn't hold shape like those in the "human body parts store." Oseni said this nose should hold up because "it’s an entire nose shape made out of polymer."
Check out photos of the synthetic parts here.
Here's more on the material and transplant technology:
Looking like very thin Latex rubber, the polymer is made up of billions of molecules, each measuring just over one nanometre (a billionth of a metre), or 40,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Working at molecular level allows the material itself to be intricately detailed.
"Inside this nanomaterial are thousands of small holes," says Seifalian.
"Tissue grows into these and becomes part of it. It becomes the same as a nose and will even feel like one."
When the nose is transferred to the patient, it doesn’t go directly onto the face but will be placed inside a balloon inserted beneath the skin on their arm.
After four weeks, during which time skin and blood vessels can grow, the nose can be monitored, then it can be transplanted to the face.
Pole reports the risk of rejection of these parts should be slim as they are "biocompatible materials" that use of the patients own cells. Pole notes that the process for making these materials from a patients cells started with embryonic stem cell research but now comes from bone marrow stem cells.
The technology being refined by the lab could also bypass open heart surgery someday. Pole reports that instead of needing "seeding" (the process of acclimating the patient's cells to the part before transplant described above) the heart valves are being developed to attract the cells they need to continue growth when implanted directly in the body:
"Normally for heart bypass you take a section of vein from the patient’s leg or arm. But 30 per cent of patients don’t have suitable veins so can’t have the operation. No alternative currently exists for them," says Seifalian.
"We are the first in the world with this. Nobody else is even close. It has been successful in animal trials; this year it will be going for patient trials."
While Seifalian acknowledged that more time is needed to see how these materials react with the body in the long term, the ultimate hope is that it will eliminate the need for organ donation someday. Oseni said, "If we can grow a heart, a lung or a trachea in a lab, we don’t need to wait for donors."
Check out BBC's report on last year's synthetic trachea transplant for more on the process: