The human nose does some pretty amazing things. It can play vital roles in how we communicate with facial expressions; it hangs out with groovy mustaches, and of course helps us detect smells. So what happens when something goes wrong with it? Can we replace our noses? Learn more in this week’s Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia.
We grow hair, we cut hair, it grows back. Finger and toenails also know this familiar fate. Basically anything that grows on us naturally is genetically rooted in our body at any given point. For example, everything that your body needs to understand about how to grow hair is already present within the body. Some things grow often and are frequently replaced like hair and skin cells while other things such as a heart or brain are grown only once. However, the code that explains what it is and how it grows is in the body even after the growing item has formed. The nose has a similar situation; the stuff to re-grow a nose is located in the body and apparently can be put to use to regrow damaged items thanks to modern science and medicine.
Okay, so we're not taking about plastic surgery like what celebrities and intergalactic parody princesses get done, we're talking about functional reconstructive surgery to help disabled patients get their lives back in order. Recently scientists in China were able to grow a nose on the forehead of a patient that had damaged his original nose in an accident. The surgeon that worked on this procedure has recently gone public with his handiwork and it is astounding!
By taking stem cells and harvesting some cartilage from the patient's sternum a Chinese surgeon was able to create the basic foundations upon which a nose could be grown. The sternum hosts a lot of bone and cartilage materials that were extracted to create a 'frame' by which to grow the shape of a nose. In addition to this the nose-growth-related stem cells were mixed into this pseudo-nose structure to allow the instructions for the proper steps by which to grow a human nose, naturally. This nose-frame would do little good growing outside of the human body since so many of the vital skin components for the nose are still necessary in the final contraction process. So, a strange location was picked for this growth process.
The human forehead holds a lot of the characteristics that are needed for the natural growth of the human nose, it happens at birth so in theory the elements necessary can be replicated if need be. Another interesting thing about the forehead is there is a small pouch that can be created by pulling the forehead skin back. This is no surprise to the medical community. Some of the oldest medical reconstructive processes relay back to the forehead skin pocket dating back thousands of years. Once the nose-frame laced with stem cells is placed in this pocket under the forehead the basic components for nose-growth are all present and accounted for. So, then one simply needs time to allow the body to do its thing. Within six months the fully grown nose appears to be completed on the forehead of the patient.
The idea is that once fully grown on the forehead it is ready for transplant. This is not the first time that scientists have dabbled with using the human body as a factory to create organs and such, but this is yet another process that allows for the medical community to further research on how to support and help those that are suffering from organ-related loss due to accidents, medical illness, or otherwise.
So, will this procedure take off? Will this eventually turn into a commonplace procedure generations from now? Will this push the medical community to make larger discoveries about our marvelous universe within? …who nose?
Stay tuned for more updates as they are published!
Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia