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LONDON - A German who had his lower jaw cut out because of cancer has enjoyed his first meal in nine years — a bratwurst sandwich — after surgeons grew a new jaw bone in his back muscle and transplanted it to his mouth in what experts call 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 own bone marrow, containing stem cells, to create a new jaw bone that fit exactly into the gap left by the cancer surgery.
Tests have not been done yet to verify whether the bone was created by the blank-slate stem cells and it is too early to tell whether the jaw will function normally in the long term. But the operation is 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 of the body that go on to become every tissue in the body. They are a hot area of research with scientists trying to find ways to prompt them to make desired tissues, and perhaps organs.
But while researchers debate whether the technique resulted in a scientific advance involving stem cells, the operation has achieved its purpose and changed a life, said Stan Gronthos, a stem cell expert at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide, Australia.
"A patient who had previously lost his mandible (lower jaw) through the result of a destructive tumor can now sit down and chew his first solid meals in nine years ... resulting in an improved quality of life," said Gronthos, who was not connected with the experiment.