A child is born without an ear. An adult suffers deformities in an accident. Another child is born without a jaw. Can these anomalies and scars be corrected?
Health Science Center faculty and staff are transforming tragedies into triumphs through the miracles of plastic surgery and other surgical expertise, and the use of maxillofacial prosthetics. After these skilled professionals perform their magic, it's hard to tell where original living tissue ends and replacements begin.
In the future, it will be even more difficult. Researchers expect to be able to restore diseased arteries and grow new bones to repair bones that have been damaged. The body will be taught to regrow a tooth which is missing or damaged. An ear, shaped from existing cartilage and tissue, will replace one that's deformed or missing.
"Although we cannot yet regrow a human tooth, researchers here are already growing mouse teeth in culture, outside of the mouse's body," said Huw F. Thomas, PhD, professor and chairman of pediatric dentistry. "We take tooth-forming tissues from mice in a very early stage of development before they form any mineralized tissue. We place them in an organ culture system and under the right conditions, we can get them to continue developing and eventually deposit the mineralized tissue characteristic of a tooth. If we can define the right genetic and cellular signals that are involved in this process and learn how to turn them on and off, there's no reason we can't eventually grow a human tooth."
Breast reconstruction and regrowth is another rapidly changing field. Fat cells are being grown and used to reconstruct breasts. Physicians now are also able to use a woman's own tissue for breast reconstruction. A pad of fat, including blood vessels, is removed from the patient's abdomen and sewn to the chest area. The blood vessels are attached to those under the patient's arm.
According to surgeons, using the patient's own tissue for any reconstruction is always the first choice. However, the surgical techniques and technology have not yet replaced the need for prostheses which now are available in incredibly lifelike forms to make patients whole again.
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