French surgeons grew a 3D-printed nose on a patient's arm and then grafted it onto her face

The technique worked when skin flap grafting and prosthesis failed.
Ameya Paleja
The 3D printed nose that grew on the patient's arm
The 3D printed nose that grew on the patient's arm

Toulouse Hospital 

Surgeons at the Toulouse University Hospital and the Claudius Regaud Institute in France have successfully grafted a 3D-printed nose that was grown on the patient's arm, an institutional press release said.

The technology of additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, allows us to make objects from scratch one layer at a time. Researchers around the world have used the technique for a wide variety of applications ranging from building houses and schools to even making firearms.

The technology can not only be used for making large structures but also tiny ones, as small as our blood vessels, that could one day be used to treat diseases of the heart and circulatory system. While these are applications that might occur in the near future, Belgium-based Cerhum uses technology that is not just available today but also has been approved for use in patients in Europe.

How can one 3D print bone?

According to Cerhum's website, bone building inside our body occurs using chemicals such as Hydroxyapatite (HAP) and Tri-Calcium Phosphate (TCP). These chemicals are produced by our bone cells and then shaped into desired configurations depending on the location of the bone.

Interestingly, these chemicals can also be produced very cheaply using mass production methods using controlled chemical reactions. Cerhum has not only managed to crack the production process for high-quality chemicals but also figured out a way to use them to 3D print bones.

The company lists faster healing and rehabilitation as the advantages of using its technology. The material used is clinically tested, but more importantly, the 3D-printed structure is always patient-specific.

How a cancer patient got her nose back

According to the details provided in the press release, the female patient had lost a large part of her nose as well as the anterior (frontal) region of her palate way almost a decade ago. In 2013, the patient was diagnosed with nasal cavity cancer, and the treatments of radiotherapy and chemotherapy that followed resulted in this condition.

Having survived cancer, the patient then lived for many years without a nose before opting for nasal construction using grafting skin flaps. However, the intervention did not work out, and the patient experienced difficulties using a nasal prosthesis.

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The researchers at Toulouse University Hospital teamed up with Cerhum, which then provided a highly customized nasal reconstruction option. Such a reconstruction had never been performed before since there were very few blood vessels that were available for the reconstructed tissue to connect to.

French surgeons grew a 3D-printed nose on a patient's arm and then grafted it onto her face
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma tumor.

Therefore, the reconstruction was completed in two stages. First, the customized 3D-printed biomaterial that would replace the cartilage was constructed using images prior to the treatment and implanted on the patient's forearm. This would allow the skin grafts taken from her temple area to grow with necessary blood vessels.

Two months later, the Toulouse University surgeons transplanted the 3D-printed nose, which now had tissue onto the patient's face. Microsurgery was performed to connect the blood vessels that grew out of the arm skin to those in the patient's face, the press release said.

The patient was required to stay in the hospital for a mere ten days and followed a course of antibiotics for three weeks post-surgery and is now reported to be doing well.

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