We describe a simple, effective approach to the creation of autologous tissue-engineered cartilage in the shape of a human nipple by injecting a reverse thermosensitive polymer seeded with autologous chondrocytes in an immunocompetent porcine animal model. A biodegradable, biocompatible copolymer of polyethylene oxide and polypropylene oxide (Pluronic F-127), which exists as a liquid below 4°C and polymerizes to a thick gel when it is exposed to physiologic temperatures (body temperatures), was used as a vehicle for chondrocyte delivery and as a scaffold to guide growth.
Autologous chondrocytes isolated from porcine auricular elastic cartilage and suspended in 30% (weight/volume) Pluronic F-127 were injected on the ventral surface of the pigs from which the cells had been isolated. A circumferential subdermal suture was used to support the contour of the implant and assist in its projection in the form of a human nipple. After 3 weeks, the skin over and surrounding the implant was tattooed to create the appearance of a human nipple-areolar complex. As controls, an equal number of injections were made using either cells alone (not suspended in hydrogel), or hydrogel alone. After 10 weeks, all specimens were excised and examined both grossly and histologically.
Before harvesting, visual inspection of the tattooed chondrocyte-Pluronic F-127 hydrogel implant sites revealed that they closely resembled a human female nippleareolar complex. Nodules were similar in size, shape, and texture to a human nipple at each injection site. Glistening opalescent tissue was surgically isolated from each implant site. Hematoxylin and eosin, safranine o, trichrome blue, and Verhoeff's stains of the experimental implants showed nodules with the characteristic histologic signs of elastic cartilage. Control injections of copolymer hydrogel alone exhibited no evidence of cartilage formation. Control injections of chondrocytes alone showed evidence of dissociated microscopic nodules of elastic cartilage. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 102: 2293, 1998.)