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Researchers move closer to growing human ear from stem cells

10 March 2014

By Dr Greg Ball

Appeared in BioNews 745

Researchers have developed a technique to grow cartilage structures from the stem cells found in human fat tissue. They hope that this will pave the way for ears and noses to be grown in the laboratory and used in transplants.

The researchers took stem cells from abdominal fat and combined these with a specially-designed artificial scaffold. They succeeded in converting the cells into cartilage inside the scaffold material.

Dr Patrizia Ferretti from University College London, who led the study, said: 'This is just step one, we have just shown proof of principle that cartilage can be made from stem cells on a clinically-approved biomaterial. We haven't yet made a complete ear with related material that is biodegradable, but I am hopeful we will in the not-too-distant future'.

The technology could be used to help young people born with facial abnormalities, such as 'microtia' where the outer part of the ear is underdeveloped. Around 7,000 people are affected by microtia in the UK and thousands of babies are born with other kinds of facial abnormalities.

Current treatments require taking cartilage from other parts of the body, most commonly the ribs. This is a painful and invasive procedure and the removed cartilage does not grow back. After the cartilage has been extracted it is shaped to form the external ear and implanted under the patient's skin.

Cartilage grown on an ear-shaped scaffold from the patient's own fat stem cells would remove the need for surgery. Using the patient's own cells also means that there should be no issues with rejection. Although it would not be used to treat hearing defects, the external ear grown in the laboratory would biologically be the same as a normal ear.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Ferretti said it was exciting to work with materials that 'don't have the problem of immunosuppression and can do the job you want them to do'.

'It would be the Holy Grail to do [an ear transplant] through a single surgery, so decreasing enormously the stress for the children and having a structure that hopefully will be growing as the child grows'.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

14 July 2014 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A paraplegic woman in the USA has developed a growth of nasal tissue in her back eight years after failed stem cell therapy...
28 May 2014 - by Dr Molly Godfrey 
Stem cells created from a monkey's own skin cells can be transplanted back into the animal without a high risk of tumour formation, researchers have reported...
14 April 2014 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
A lab in London where scientists grow human noses and windpipes has opened its doors to the press...

09 December 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) have been transformed into lung and airway cells for the first time...
19 August 2013 - by Dr Katie Howe 
A mouse heart was able to contract again after its own cells were removed and replaced with human stem cells, a study in Nature Communications reports...
07 May 2013 - by David O'Rourke 
A toddler has become the youngest person to receive a bioengineered organ, receiving a life-saving windpipe transplant made from her own stem cells...
30 July 2012 - by Daryl Ramai 
The Irish boy who had pioneering surgery two years ago to implant a new windpipe partially derived from his own stem cells is healthy and back at school. A follow-up study published in The Lancet medical journal reports that Ciaran Finn-Lynch, now 13, is breathing normally and no longer needs anti-rejection medication...

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