KEY WEST, Fla. - A Key West girl re-grew her own jaw bone after having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
Just before her 12th birthday, Alexandia Lichtl felt a bump on her lower jaw.
"I noticed there was something weird and it hurt really bad, and I didn't know what it was. I didn't really think it was anything," she said.
Ultimately, a biopsy reveled it was a cancerous tumor that had to be surgically removed along with a section of her jaw.
"It was bad. I was very upset," said Licthl of her appearance after the surgery. "I didn't even look like myself anymore."
The standard approach for replacing missing bone involves take a piece of bone from another part of the body, but maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Robert Marx tried something different.
"What we've come up with is applying tissue engineering principals to tissue engineer bone right in the jaw itself," Marx said.
Using a needle, Marx extracts stem cells from the patients hip. The cells are then mixed with an approved bone stimulator and freeze-dried cadaver bone from the University of Miami's tissue bank.
"We combine all three of them into a mixture and because it takes the form of wet gravel, we can contour and shape it into the jaw and what it does is. it sets up and regenerates bone just like water sets up when it freezes," Marx said.
Licthl's father Daniel was amazed at how rapidly the bone grew.
"The job, from the time he did the bone to the time we got the x-ray, was maybe 30 to 40 days or something and it went from no bone, a big gap, to bone in the x-ray and to see this is pretty amazing," he said.
The entire process, which ultimately included dental implants, took more than three years, but Marx said the implications are widespread.
"In the future, this kind of technology could be used for any number of health concerns, including treating shattered limbs or helping people with arthritis grow new bone," Marx said.
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