In a north London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels. It is a bold attempt to make body parts in the laboratory. But it isn't the only lab in the world that is pursuing the futuristic idea of growing organs for transplant.
Only a handful of patients have received the British lab-made organs so far. The organs include tear ducts, blood vessels and windpipes. But researchers hope they will soon be able to transplant more types of body parts into patients. This includes what would be the world's first nose made partly from stem cells.
"It's like making a cake," said Alexander Seifalian at University College London. He's the scientist leading the effort. "We just use a different kind of oven."
"If people are not that fussy, we could manufacture different sizes of noses so the surgeon could choose a size and tailor it for patients before implanting it," he said. "People think your nose is very individual and personal but this is something that we could mass produce like in a factory one day."
He and his team are creating other organs including coronary arteries and ears. Later this year, a trial is scheduled to start in India and London to test lab-made ears for people born without them.
Last year, he and his team used that material to mold a nose for a British man who lost his to cancer. Then they added a salt and sugar solution to the mold to mimic the somewhat sponge-like texture of a natural nose. Stem cells were taken from the patient's fat and grown in the lab for two weeks before being used to cover the nose scaffold. Later, the nose was implanted into the man's forearm so that skin would grow to cover it.