Good news in the area of growing human body parts outside of human bodies. Just recently, researchers in Japan from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University successfully grew an adult-sized “living” ear on the back of a rat using human stem cells.
Growing new human ears is important, some feel, as it can help people born with absent or malformed ears to obtain real, proper ears.
The Japanese research team accomplished their feat by erasing the identity of embryonic stem cells, and turning on the genes that send the signal to form cartilage. The stem cells were then placed in ear-shaped, dissolvable tubing and implanted under a rat’s skin, where they grew for about a month. The resulting living ear can be grafted onto patients, and grow into a human’s skin as a permanent live implant.
This isn’t the first time that such research and lab work has been done. A similar procedure was conducted successfully a few years ago by a team of American researchers, using cow and sheep tissue grown around a wire frame, which was also implanted and grown in a rat.
A human ear was grown about 3 years ago on a human’s arm, but was constructed of human cartilage and not stem cells.
The Japanese team claims that human trials could begin in about five years with their new ear procedure.
Birth defects in humans involving the ears are said to affect about 1 in every 2,000 live births in the U.S. Typical treatment today can involve taking cartilage from a person’s rib cage and grafting it onto the head or implanting a synthetic implant in the body, in the place of an ear.
Painful surgeries can be a part of the process, which takes multiple consultations to complete.