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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 23:00 GMT
Lab-grown bone mends smashed finger
pipette and dropper
Cells for implant can now be cultured in the lab
Surgeons have used a revolutionary technique to replace the shattered finger joint of a 36-year-old German man.

The operation involved implanting some of the patient's own cartilage and bone cells after culturing them in the lab.

Cells taken from the man's rib and hip and grown in a culture solution have been successfully implanted to help rebuild the damaged joint.

According to New Scientist magazine, early indications are that the patient's finger is healing well.

Surgeons at the University of Freiburg's Surgical Medical Centre in Freiburg, Germany hope the implanted bone and cartilage cells will fuse together to create a new joint.

The cells have been implanted into a three-dimensional structure, similar to a scaffold, in the finger, which replicates the shape of the joint.

Grown in lab

Biotechnology company BioTissue Technologies grew the bone and cartilage cells in the lab for four weeks before they were put back into the injured finger.

Company spokesman, Volker Kessler, said: "The scaffold is a biodegradable substance and it will degrade away with time, allowing the new cells to take over."

The patient has not yet been able to move his finger, but X-rays suggest it is healing well.

"We're pretty happy about it," said Mr Kessler, who claims it is the first implant made from bone and cartilage.

A technique for culturing and implanting a patient's own cartilage to repair damaged joints has already been employed at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London.

The procedure has been successfully used to treat patients with knee injuries.

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