Surgeons grow `test-tube' thumb


London - Surgeons have grown a "test-tube" thumb from a man's own skin and bone and then sewn it onto him. The operation fulfilled a promise made three years ago when transplant surgeons realised that there were no longer enough donor organs to save lives.

"The idea is to make organs, rather than simply move them," said Dr Robert Langer and Dr Joseph Vacanti, two scientists in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1995. They grew a human ear on a mouse's back to prove their point. This week - in an operation to be shown on BBC1's Tomorrow's World on Wednesday - Boston surgeons grew a new thumb for a car worker whose old thumb had been crushed in an accident.

One of them sewed the remains of the old thumb to the patient's chest to keep it alive, while another sculpted a thumb bone from coral to use as a scaffold and then "seeded" it with bone cells from the patient's forearm. The team then attached the new thumb bone to the man's hand, and covered it with flesh grown from the skin from the original thumb.