Surgeon leads cutting-edge research to grow body parts
SCIENCE fiction could become fact in Swansea where a surgeon is leading cutting-edge research to grow new body parts for people who have suffered scars and disfigurements.
Iain Whitaker has made history by becoming the first professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery in Wales.
This is a new clinical-academic post comprising the roles of professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Swansea University College of Medicine, and honorary consultant plastic surgeon at Morriston Hospital's Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery.
His role involves a combination of hands-on surgery and researching how stem cell technology can help develop new treatments for people with burns scars or disfigurements such as those caused by cancer or serious accidents.
He will develop a research department focusing on reconstructive surgery and regenerative medicine, expanding the unit's national and international profile.
Professor Whitaker said: "My current research interests lie in the field of regenerative medicine.
"This, simply put, means growing tissues in the laboratory with the aim of safely implanting them when the body cannot heal itself."
His preliminary work, alongside colleagues at the Institute of life Sciences at Swansea University, has focused on the isolation and identification of stem cells derived from fat.
This research will make it easier and more reliable to remove fat from areas such as the abdomen and put it into areas such as the breast or face.
The aims are to improve appearance, and also investigate the ability of fat to change the appearance of scarring and promote wound healing.
In the longer term, stem cells from fat could even be used to grow other body parts and tissues.
Professor Keith Lloyd, head of the College of Medicine said: "Iain's appointment shows how the college is seeking to work more closely with the NHS in areas of shared strength and expertise."
Professor Whitaker has worked in the US and Australia, and before taking up his new appointment was with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.
He is also collaborating closely with Professor Charles Archer and Dr Ilyas Khan from the Centre for NanoHealth in Swansea University, building on their internationally renowned expertise in the field of cartilage regeneration and arthritis, and translating this to new directions in nose and ear reconstruction.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board chief executive Paul Roberts added: "Professor Whitaker's appointment to the board is an exciting development and further strengthens our partnership with the university.
"His research will no doubt be of great benefit to our patients in the future."