The Loh Down On Science

The complex process of creating a prosthetic ear in a lab will amaze you!

Cervantes et al., J. Royal Soc. Interface, 2013

Figure 1. Ear shape design and composite scaffold fabrication process. (a) Initial ear CAD image and (b) the corresponding prototype with plastic surgeon notes. (c) Revised ear prototype with accentuated features to better visualize ear landmarks upon implantation. (d ) PDMS negative mould used to cast collagen slurry with embedded wire framework. (e) Titanium wire framework with outer coil sheath; close-up depicts outer coil sheath and an intersection point of skeleton inner wires. ( f ) Line drawing of inner skeleton path. Dashed lines are overlap regions required for facile construction. (g) Composite collagen ear scaffold with embedded wire framework.

They can make meat in a Petri dish, but can they build new body parts?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

And lab-grown ears.  Yes, you heard it right: lab-grown ears.

How exactly does one rear an ear?  Ask Thomas Cervantes, from Massachusetts General Hospital.  His recipe?  First, make a 3-D model of an ear out of titanium wire.  Then marinate it in collagen proteins from a cow.  Mmmm.   The proteins solidify like plaster of Paris, forming a fibrous scaffold between the wires.  

Now, to make it even more EAR-y?  Pepper it with fresh cartilage cells from sheep.  Then, implant it into the back of a rat!  

Do what?!  Just tuck it under the skin.  The rat is bred to treat foreign tissue as its own.  So it takes care of the rest, cooking up fresh, plump cartilage.

Some months later, apologize to the rat and excise the real-looking prosthetic.  Twist it.  Bend it.  It snaps right back to shape.  

Cervantes envisions using patient’s own cartilage cells in about five years.

Which will be quite a feat of bioenginEARing.  Sorry!

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