The Best-Looking Laboratory-Grown Ear Yet

This is a bioengineered piece of tissue made to the size and shape of an adult human ear.

What’s this? It’s a life-size ear, bioengineered from cow and sheep tissue.

It may not look like something you’d want to have sticking out of your head. Nevertheless, its geometry is closer to life than a previous effort at bioengineering an outer ear, its creators say. In 1997, a team of surgeons from the Children’s Hospital in Boston earned fame for engineering a small ear and implanting it in a mouse. One researcher, Harvard Medical School surgeon Joseph Vacanti, was involved in both efforts.

This time, the team created an adult-size ear and implanted it onto a rat. The point of the implantation is to check that the ear doesn’t lose its shape after implantation and healing.

Although the latest ear clearly has some ways to go, its creators hope that one day, they’ll be able to engineer outer ears for people who are born with deformed ears or who lose their ears in accidents, the BBC reports.

To grow the new ear, researchers created a titanium wire frame modeled after the human ear. They filled in the wire frame with collagen taken from cows. In the future, human replacement ears may use collagen taken from the patient, Thomas Cervantes, one of the researchers and a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the BBC. The researchers then seeded their scaffold with cartilage cells taken from sheep.

Cervantes and his colleagues published their work today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.