Five children have each been given a new ear made from their own cells in a world first. The technique is similar to the one used in the 1990s to create the famous “Vacanti mouse”, which had a human-like ear growing on its back.
“It’s a very exciting approach,” says Tessa Hadlock at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. “They’ve shown that it is possible to get close to restoring the ear structure.”
The children were all born with an underdeveloped ear, a condition called microtia. This can cause hearing difficulties, says Hadlock. “Children with the condition often feel self-conscious and are picked on, and are unable to wear glasses.”
Standard treatments involve implanting a synthetic ear or ear-shaped cartilage taken from the child’s ribs. Neither approach is ideal: synthetic ears are prone