Scientists are helping a man grow a new nose, it was reported today.
Experts at University College London are using the man's bone marrow cells to help him replace the nose he lost to cancer.
Science magazine Focus said Professor Alex Seifalian was assisting the unnamed 53-year-old, whose bone marrow cells were currently growing in the lab on two nose-shaped scaffolds.
"We've got two noses growing, just in case someone drops one," Professor Seifalian said.
The process involves implanting one of the noses under the skin on the patient's arm. "We can make the nose, but we can't make the skin," the professor said.
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In the process, the nose is transferred, together with its skin covering, to the patient's face.
Initially, the new nose will not have working nostrils because they are covered with skin.
But doctors later open the nostrils and introduce epithelial cells, which form the mucus membranes that protect body surfaces.
Under the procedure, a mould of the patient's original nose is taken before its surgical removal.
This is used to create a second mould - made of glass - into which a polymer scaffold is sprayed. Cells from the patient's bone marrow are grown in the lab then added to the nose scaffold, which is placed in a bioreactor - a large jar-like container that rotates.
For about two weeks, the bioreactor is maintained at body temperature (37C/98.6F), which helps the cells to grow all over the scaffold.
At the same time, a small balloon is placed under the skin on one of the patient's arms. Every few days this balloon is inflated a little more to encourage the skin to stretch.
The scaffold, covered in the patient's cells, is removed from the bioreactor and surgically implanted under the stretched skin on the patient's arm, where it remains for four to six weeks as it develops a blood supply. The nose, with its new skin, is then extracted from the arm and surgically attached to the patient's face.
Focus reported the development as part of an article examining regenerative medicine - techniques used to repair diseased or damaged body parts.
The college declined to comment.