In a first, a team of researchers in China created human ears by growing cartilage and implanted them in patients.
The volunteers for the study were children above six years suffering from a condition called microtia, where ear fails to develop normally or at all. Scientists gave them new ears by creating them in a matter of just three months.
They published the paper on the open access site EBioMedicine explaining how the new ears were made and how they attached them and how well they are developing in the young patients.
Researchers took cartilage samples (chondrocytes) from the underdeveloped ears of the volunteers. The cells were then used to seed a scaffold built using biodegradable products such as PCL mesh that's used as an inner base, then wrapped with PGA fibers and covered with PLA, MedicalXpress reported.
The scaffold was then kept inside a mold -- made using a 3-D model of the healthy ear of each child volunteer -- helping the cells on the scaffold to grow into the shape of normal ear cartilage.
Once it was done, the excess ear material of the study volunteers was removed or altered and prepared for the implantation. The scaffold with a load of cells was then implanted into the prepped ear and then covered with skin grafts.
After the implantation, the cartilage was allowed to grow on its own inside the child's ear over time. They, however, monitored the kids for months, or even a couple of years, to see how their ears matured and if they faced any problems or abnormalities. Three out of the five children reportedly developed normally shaped ears but the other two had slight shape abnormalities.
Researchers mentioned that they would continue to monitor the patients for at least five more years to find out if it leads to any abnormal growth that could indicate tumors. The concern comes from animal studies where implanted cultured cells have sometimes become cancerous.
Another concern that they have is that of the ears getting deformed over time because the cartilage samples are taken from the unhealthy ear.