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Lab-Grown Ear

Scientists used a titanium wire framework to help ears made from collagen and sheep cartilage cells maintain their shape.

By | August 1, 2013

T. CERVANTES ET AL.Researchers have fabricated an artificial ear from titanium wire, bovine collagen, and cells from sheep, according to a paper published yesterday (July 31) in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Ear reconstructions today are done using cartilage harvested from patients’ rib cages or polymer implants. But these materials have not always achieved the flexibility of real ears, nor have they consistently held their shape.

To build a better ear, the researchers 3-D printed an ear-shaped structure and used it to make a mold. They then built an ear-shaped support system from titanium wire, poured cow collagen into the mold, and embedded the wire within the collagen. Finally, they seeded the ear-shaped scaffold with cartilage cells from sheep. The researchers embedded their synthetic ears under the skin of rats and let them grow for 12 weeks, allowing the cartilage cells to build their own extracellular matrix.

Thomas Cervantes, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and an author of the study, was pleased with the results: “One—we were able to keep the shape of the ear, after 12 weeks of growth in the rat,” he told BBC News. “And then secondly, we were also able to keep the natural flexibility of the cartilage.”

He said he hoped to do trials of the ears in humans 5 years from now using cartilage cells from human patients’ own tissues rather than from sheep.

Earlier this year, researchers at Cornell University unveiled their own attempt at engineering ears, in their case using collagen and cow cartilage cells.

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 119

August 1, 2013

Here is where too much money and too much knowledge about some things and none about others can be a stupid combination.  This is really no big deal.  Anyone in the implantable medical device field that uses titanium would have told you how the body quickly and efficiently encapsulates that metal with dense connective tissue.  Frankly, the experiment was way overly complicated.  Cows, sheep, rats!  How crazy and inefficient.  A titanium mesh over NuSil silicone rubber, which the body also quickly encapsulates, or probably better the other way, silicone over mesh, would have generated the exact same results much easier and faster for a teeny-tiny fraction of the cost.  This can easily be prepared and done subcutaneously in any person in less than a year.  The real trick will be to get it vascularized and covered with skin.  Hey, tissue engineers, that is what you really need to focus on! 

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