Doctors and engineers from two New York institutions may have figured out a way to grow ears for adults and children in need of healthy ones. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Reconstructing long-lasting, natural looking ears has been a bit of a puzzle for the medical community. But it seems Dr. Spector, Director of Weill Cornell's Laboratory of Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery along with Cornell University's Biomedical Engineering Department may have figured out a way to build ears using several cutting edge technologies.
First, they take a three-dimensional picture of the ear.
"From that digitized image we manufacture a mold which is the exact negative image of the ear," explains Spector.
Or they can even use a 3D printer to create the collagen ear mold which is seeded with the cells from the patient's cartilage. The collagen acts as a scaffold for the cells to grow on.
"After a couple days in culture, we put it into an animal to incubate, to grow, and eventually the collagen framework that the cells are sitting in is replaced by ear cartilage," says Spector.
Spector and his partners in Ithaca are hoping to remedy a deformity among children know as microtia, where the ear is under-developed. It affects one to four children, per 10,000 births and can impact a child's hearing. Current surgeries to fix the ears can be painful, with mixed results.
"Other approaches to doing reconstructions uses prosthetic or artificial materials," notes Spector. "Prosthetic materials again, don't have the natural feel of an ear. After three months of the cartilage cells working, making its protein, it will become elastic, so I would be able to bend this just like I bend a regular ear."
The hope is that the bioengineered ears won't just help kids, but also people who may have lost part or all of their ears in accidents or through other health complications.
Currently, Spector and his team is testing the ears with human cells to see how it behaves.
They also need to find a quick way to grow the 250 million cells needed for the ears, but hope to be able to offer the new innovation to patients within the next three years.