Most of us take for granted what we look like, how our bodies work, and at the same time assume that things will be the same tomorrow. Unfortunately for numerous patients suffering from diseases such as microtia this isn’t the case. Either born with abnormalities to their cartilaginous tissue, or from a debilitating disease there are many people who suffer from damage to their nose, ears, or other cartilage based organ. This poses many problems for those afflicted, from loss of function to social and mental distress. Some cancer surgeries also result in a loss of, or damage to facial cartilaginous structures. This can be incredibly demoralizing for someone who is fighting for his or her life. Fortunately with new scientific discoveries it doesn’t need to be this way forever.
A recent article in BBC news describes a new technique by which doctors are able to take adipose tissue from a patient, and then using chondrogenic differentiation transform the fat cell into a stem cell. From there they can regrow the cartilaginous tissue using a nano-sized scaffold to guide its growth. The eventual result is a cartilage structure of a predetermined size and shape. This structure can then be surgically implanted into the patient. The ultimate goal of this procedure would be to encourage the structure to continue to grow so that it matches pace with the host body and ensures that no more surgeries are needed.
While similar cartilage structure creations do exist already they are typically harvested from a source on the body (eg. the ribcage) and then sculpted to look like the appropriate organ before being surgically implanted. At which point the structure does not continue to grow, requiring the patient to undergo multiple surgeries simply to keep a functioning and similarly sized organ. Furthermore each successive surgery requires a new structure, so more cartilage needs to be removed from the ribs – where it does not grow back – before it can once again be sculpted into the required shape.
While this use of adipose-derived stem cell is limited to a fairly specific niche it nonetheless paves the way for future advances of this technique. At this point researches have shown that it is possible and have succeeded in growing a cartilage scaffold, however before they can begin implanting them into human subjects they need to first verify that the procedure is truly as safe as it sounds. One of the benefits of using adipose derived stem cells is the negligible risk of rejection from the host body, as the stem cells originated from the same person. This combined with numerous successes using stem cells from other sources (eg. bone marrow) have scientists feeling optimistic about this new procedure.
Posted by Kirk MacKinnon (5)