Five Chinese kids get new ears grown in lab with their own cells | world news | Hindustan Times
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Five Chinese kids get new ears grown in lab with their own cells

The children, aged between six and nine years, were all born with a defect in one ear known as microtia, a condition in which the external ear is small and not formed properly.

world Updated: Jan 31, 2018 21:29 IST
HT Correspondent
Images of the lab-grown ear grafted on one of the children.
Images of the lab-grown ear grafted on one of the children.(Courtesy EBioMedicine)

Chinese scientists have given five children new ears that were grown in a laboratory using their own cells combined with a 3D-printed biodegradable mould.

The children, aged between six and nine years, were all born with a defect in one ear known as microtia, a condition in which the external ear is small and not formed properly.

The Chinese procedure, the first of its kind, helped the scientists do something that others involved in regenerative medicine have long been trying to achieve – growing a human organ in a lab that is fully compatible on being surgically implanted.

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal EBioMedicine this month, created reversed 3D-printed replicas of the children’s normal ears and used the replicas to make biodegradable moulds full of tiny holes.

They then collected cartilage cells called chondrocytes from the children’s deformed ears and used them to grow ear-shaped cartilage with the moulds in a lab.

After three months, the ears grown in the lab were grafted on the children. Some of the children also underwent a procedure in which the skin of the deformed ears was stretched so that it could accommodate the mould.

The first surgery was performed two-and-a-half years ago and the latest two months ago. So far, the ears have not been rejected by the body and cartilage has continued to grow within the mould, resulting in more natural-looking ears. The shape and size of the new ear matched that of the normal ear.

A diagram explaining the process used to grow the ears in a laboratory. (Courtesy EBioMedicine)

“In summary, we were able to successfully design, fabricate, and regenerate patient-specific external ears…Nevertheless, further efforts remain necessary to eventually translate this prototype work into routine clinical practices,” the scientists wrote in EBioMedicine.

Microtia can seriously influence the psychological and physiological well-being of affected children and the cosmetic treatments currently available involve grafting a synthetic ear, which can be rejected by the body, or an ear sculpted out of rib cartilage, which often does not look natural.

The approach adopted by the Chinese scientists is “not novel” and has been around as an idea for some time, Tessa Hadlock, chief of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, told CNN.

“Surgeons have been toying with the idea of removing cartilage tissue from a patient and distilling that tissue into individual cellular components and then expanding those cellular components. In other words, having the cells divide so you have a bigger piece or more cells to make a new part with,” she said.

This has been done in animals for a long time, she added.

However, Hadlock warned that the “dangerous” part of such an approach is removing cells from a human body and growing them in a lab, where “you have to apply stimulating compounds to the cells to get them to divide”.

“When you apply those stimulating compounds, you are running the risk of allowing those cells to go haywire from a division standpoint. It’s another way of saying that you can actually create like a cancerous type of uncontrolled growth,” she said.

Lawrence Bonassar, a professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said it would also be difficult to scale up the process of creating moulds and growing the ears in a lab to help tens of thousands of children affected by microtia.