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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 22:25 GMT
Bone rings exchanged by couples
Image of the bioactive material and a finished ring
The growing process is long and is fragile, but has future potential
Couples are being given the opportunity to exchange jewellery made from samples of their bone grown in the laboratory.

Scientists obtain bone cells from wisdom teeth and then grow them on a "scaffold" material in the lab.

The efforts are part of a collaboration between scientists and artists aiming to learn how to craft complex shapes from bone tissue.

Examples are to go on display at an exhibition at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London.

I would get sent photographs of the material as it was growing so in some sense I felt an emotional connection to the process
Harriet Harriss

Harriet Harriss and Matt Harrison, one of five couples involved in the project, have just been presented with their rings made from their bone cells.

"I do think it's interesting that I've only been in contact with bone when it's been in my dinner," said Harriet, "So it's intriguing to have my own bone, my own matter objectified in this way and made into something precious and symbolic.

Her partner Matt told BBC News: "When you think about it for a while, it's like ivory but more ethical, and the material has never been part of Harriet, just grown from her code taken from her body.

He added: "Yes it's the reason why people are interested and why they have the 'yuck' factor but when you see the object and think about it, I don't think it is gross at all. It's quite clean and pure."

Bone scaffold

The scientists extracted the participants' wisdom teeth to get at a sliver of bone that attaches them to the jawbone.

They then dissolve the bone mineral and extract the bone cells to go into the lab.

These are fed with nutrients and grown on a "scaffold" material called bioglass, a special bioactive ceramic which mimics the structure of bone material.

Image of one of the volunteer couples, Harriet and Matt (Image: Michael Venning)
Harriet and Matt are one of the volunteer couples who will exchange bones

The original plan was to attempt to take a biopsy from the volunteers, but the ethics and the risks of undergoing such a medical procedure were too great.

Eventually, the technique could be used to grow large bits of bone for people with cancer or who need bone replacements.

"This will improve the welfare of the patient as you won't need to harvest bone from elsewhere in the body," explained Dr Ian Thompson, a research fellow in oral and maxillofacial surgery at King's College who is the scientist on the project.

"So if you have damaged a part of your jaw, you won't need to take a piece of the rib or somewhere else in the body to replace that bit of damaged bone we would simply grow that new piece in the laboratory and then implant it."

Dr Thompson says he thinks it will be used in clinical practice, but not in his lifetime.

Tobie Kerridge and Nikki Stott, the artists on the project, fit the bone into jewellery made of bone and silver, to a design agreed with the couples.

"I would get sent photographs of the material as it was growing so in some sense I felt an emotional connection to the process," said Harriet.

"I am intrigued by how, for many people what is in their bodies is a source of distress or discomfort for them.

"To take something that is from myself and make it into something precious is a lovely thing and means quite a lot to me."

Examples of biojewellery can be seen at an exhibition in the atrium of Guy's Hospital, London, from 7 December until 14 February 2007.

Rings of bone grown for couples
10 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Skin and bones 'made to measure'
18 Jan 05 |  Manchester

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