Jawbone created, implanted
A German who had his lower jaw cut out because of cancer has enjoyed his
first meal in nine years -- a bratwurst sandwich -- after surgeons grew a
new jawbone in his back muscle and transplanted it to his mouth in what experts
call an ``ambitious'' experiment.
According to this week's issue of the Lancet medical journal, the German doctors used a mesh cage, a growth chemical and the patient's own bone marrow, containing stem cells, to create a new jawbone that fit exactly into the gap left by the cancer surgery.
Tests have not been done yet to verify whether the bone was created by the blank-slate stem cells, and it is too early to tell whether the jaw will function normally in the long term. But the operation is the first published report of a whole bone being engineered and incubated inside a patient's body and transplanted.
Stem cells are the master cells of the body that go on to become every tissue in the body. They are a hot area of research with scientists trying to find ways to prompt them to make desired tissues, and perhaps organs.
But while researchers debate whether the technique resulted in a scientific advance involving stem cells, the operation has achieved its purpose and changed a life, said Stan Gronthos, a stem-cell expert at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide, Australia.
``A patient who had previously lost his mandible through the result of a destructive tumor can now sit down and chew his first solid meals in nine years . . . resulting in an improved quality of life,'' said Gronthos, who was not connected with the experiment.
The operation was done by Dr. Patrick Warnke, a reconstructive facial surgeon at the University of Kiel in Germany. The patient, a 56-year-old man, had his lower jaw and half his tongue cut out almost a decade ago after getting mouth cancer. Since then, he had only been able to slurp soft food or soup from a spoon.