In a world first, scientists grow new ears for children with microtia

In a landmark study for the tissue engineering community, scientists have successfully grown and reconstructed new ears for children born with a birth defect.

Photo from study, patient's face blurred to protect identity
Photo from study, patient's face blurred to protect identity

Scientists in China have successfully grown and reconstructed new ears for five children born with microtia, a condition that affects the function and appearance of the ear. The recent study marks a new milestone in the field of tissue engineering.

A paper published in the journal EBioMedicine outlines how the team performed the procedure.

The researchers used cartilage cells collected from patients’ affected ears to grow new cartilage in vitro. They 3D-printed mirrored copies of each patient’s healthy ear to use as scaffolding into which the new cartilage could grow, ensuring that the new ears would be the right shape for each individual. Finally, the scientists attached and reconstructed the new ears onto the patients.

“We were able to successfully design, fabricate, and regenerate patient-specific external ears,” wrote the researchers.

Reconstructing the ears of microtia patients has been a goal of the tissue engineering community for decades. The condition affects as many as 17.4 out every 10,000 children in some countries, in degrees ranging from a slightly smaller ear (on one side or both) to a completely missing ear, a condition known as anotia. It cripples hearing ability; one doctor wrote that hearing with microtia is similar to placing a finger in your ear, and can also damage self-confidence.

The study signals new hope for children afflicted with microtia, but the procedure may prove difficult to implement on a large scale.

Lawrence Bonassar, a biomedical engineering professor at Cornell University who wasn’t involved in the study, told CNN:

“The method for making these constructs is quite complicated, involving three distinct biomaterials that are combined into a scaffold, seeded with cells, then cultured for three months before implantation to ensure proper cell distribution throughout the construct.”

Scaling up the procedure for thousands of microtia patients would be a difficult task, he said.

“Secondly, the materials that are used for these scaffolds remain in the body for a long time: up to four years... Such implants would likely need to be monitored for four or five years before the ultimate fate of these materials in the body is known.”

Still, the results of the recent study are positive.

Tissue engineered auricle is a promising alternative to current ear reconstructive options, but its clinical translation is yet to be accomplished,” the researchers wrote. “In the current study, cartilage frameworks with patient-specific ear shapes and proper mechanical strength were successfully engineered in vitro. Using these engineered ear frameworks, we performed external ear reconstruction on 5 patients and achieved satisfactory therapeutic outcome as revealed during 2.5 years' follow-up so far.”



‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists find unique "hot Jupiter" planet without clouds

A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.

Illustration of WASP-62b, the Jupiter-like planet without clouds or haze in its atmosphere.

Credit: M. Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
  • Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
  • Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois)

Credit: Rickard Zerpe / Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Scroll down to load more…