A Groundbreaking Discovery

While a majority of head and neck cancer is treatable, the effects of the disease and subsequent treatment can lead to loss of function and disfigurement. As such a prominent feature, deformities to the nose are difficult to conceal which can lead to much emotional distress.

Currently, to rebuild a nose, surgeons must perform an invasive surgery—that can take up to 12 hours– where cartilage is taken from another site on a patient’s body and reconstructed in real time.

“We are taking parts from other areas in the body that are only meant to be used in those original parts,” says Dr. Khalid Ansari, associate professor of surgery at the University of Alberta. “We can do it but it comes with a cost. But what we have come up with is to make cartilage that is biologically identical to the patient’s so we will be able to eliminate other morbidities and poor outcomes they currently face.”

Thanks to funding from the Alberta Cancer Foundation Mickleborough Interfacial Bioscience Research program, the Alberta-based team is able to engineer high-quality “custom-made” cartilage that will be created specifically for each patient. They have proven it in the lab but the next step will be to translate that knowledge to patients.

“The day we can give a surgeon a piece of cartilage to restore the nose will be a really exciting day,” says Dr. Martin Osswald, a maxiofacial prosthodontist with the Institute of Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine and associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. “This is all about the patient–patients have entrusted us to get them back to their lives and this is one way we can help with that.”

The team—including mechanical engineers, plastic surgeons, industrial designers—ensures everything they do is centred around the patient.

“We knew this was possible—we just needed the right combination of talent, setting and funds,” says Dr. Adetola Adesida, an associate professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Surgery. “We established this team around the patient, from research to surgery to reconstruction and that allows us to give them the highest quality tissue.”

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