“It’s a very exciting approach,” Tessa Hadlock at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston tells New Scientist. “They’ve shown that it is possible to get close to restoring the ear structure.”
The kids were between the ages of 6 and 10 years old and all had microtia, a malformation of the external ear. The researchers took a sample of cartilage from each child, harvested the cartilage-forming cells (called chondrocytes), expanded them, and then grew them on a mold that was build from a CT scan of the patient’s normal ear. The tissue was then implanted into a skin flap to reconstruct the ear, a process that all told took several months.
The first child has been followed for two and a half years, and the authors reported in their study that they are happy with the results, having “achieved satisfactory aesthetical outcome with mature cartilage formation.”
“The delivery of shaped cartilage for the reconstruction of microtia has been a goal of the tissue engineering community for more than two decades,” Lawrence Bonassar of Cornell University tells CNN. “This work clearly shows tissue engineering approaches for reconstruction of the ear and other cartilaginous tissues will become a clinical reality very soon.”
Previously, scientists had been able to transplant human ears into mice. Bonassar tells CNN that the challenges to expanding the use of the technique in humans include regulatory oversight and scaling up the personalized process.