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Science File

German Doctors Grow, Replace Man's Jawbone

August 28, 2004|From Associated Press

A German whose lower jaw was cut out because of cancer has munched 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 called 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 bone marrow, containing stem cells, to create a new jawbone that fit into the gap left by the cancer surgery.

Tests have not been done to verify whether the bone was created by the blank-slate stem cells and it was too early to tell whether the jaw would function normally in the long term. But the operation was 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 that can become any type of tissue in the body. Scientists are trying to find ways to prompt them into desired tissues, and perhaps organs.

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.

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