Stranger Than Fiction Department

How to grow a jaw on your back

He still lacks a lower set of teeth, but a German man who had his jaw removed during a painful battle with mouth cancer just received a replacement. What makes his story unusual, however, is how his jaw was created. The risk of infection and the patient's medication prevented doctors from taking the standard approach--constructing a substitute out of bone material grafted from other parts of his body. Instead surgeons at the University of Kiel in Germany grew a new jaw in the man's back. Here is the simplified recipe.

Ingredients:

1 titanium micromesh cage
7 milligrams bone-specific growth factor (recombinant BMP7)
20 milliliters of patient's bone marrow
5 grams of bovine bone mineral
10 bone mineral blocks

Directions:

Based on images of the subject's face, use a 3-D-modeling system to create a virtual model of the new jaw. Build a scaffold in the shape of the jaw using the titanium micromesh. Combine the bone mineral, bone marrow and growth factor
in the mesh frame. Implant all this in the patient's back, wait seven weeks, and check for growth of jawbone. Transfer fully grown jaw to mouth.

It's unclear whether the new jaw will continue to function normally over the long term, but the surgeons hope to implant a set of teeth within months. The bizarre surgery could be significant scientifically, because some researchers contend that stem cells present in the blood of the patient's marrow could have played a critical role in the bone growth. Either way, the patient, a 56-year-old man, is reportedly pleased. Four weeks after doctors transferred the jaw to his mouth, he enjoyed his first bratwurst sandwich in years.