In a world first, a human-like ear was grown using living tissue from cows and sheep. Uniquely, the ear looks like, and has all the flexibility of a real ear, meaning the same technique could be used in the future for patients with missing or deformed outer ears.
The researchers, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, grew the ear on a flexible thin wire frame using skin cells from cows and cartilage cells from sheep. The ear was then implanted onto the back of a rat, where it continued to grow for 12 weeks.
A previous experiment of the team’s involved growing a baby-sized ear on the back of a mouse.
The authors predict that there could be clinical trials on humans in around five years, which would involve taking small samples of cartilage from patients, before repeating the same process as demonstrated in this study.
The research is part of a growing field known as ‘tissue engineering’, whereby medical scientists seek to grow replacement organs in labs.