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Chennai doctors, scientists grow ear in lab

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CHENNAI: A week after scientists in China announced that they had grown new ears for five children born with a defect in one of their ears, doctors at a Chennai hospital on Tuesday displayed an ear that they claimed to have grown in a lab.

Scientists at SRM University say early animal experiments show chunks of ear cartilage cells they grew in a culture flask and 3D printed replica continued to grow when they were implanted in rabbits. In the past, many such experiments failed as they were either structurally unfit for transplantation or unable to survive in a host.

“We still have a long way to go before we give this to a child with a birth defect, but we now have a definite path,” said SIMS Hospital medical director Dr K Sridhar, a senior plastic surgeon.

The team has neither published the blueprints behind their construction nor has it patented the technology on which it had worked for nearly two years. However, at a press conference here on Tuesday, the team said they decided to tell the world about the “experiment in progress,” a week after scientists in China announced that they had grown new ears for five children born with a defect in one of their ears. “We will be doing a large scale animal study to reconfirm our results before we start any human trial,” he said.

The cartilage cells – or chondrocytes – were separated from a piece of ear cartilage which the doctors removed from rabbits. These cells were then grown in a special solution for nearly three weeks. The solution is a mixture of natural and synthetic substances that give the cells adequate nutrition. Once the cells expand, they were seeded on to a biodegradable and biocompatible scaffold that is 3D printed in the form of ears. When there were adequate number of cells – 10 7 per sq cm – on the scaffold, these cells were implanted in a rabbit.

“We kept it under the skin in the rabbit’s abdomen for three months. We also left an empty scaffold on the other side of the abdomen,” said Dr Shantanu Patil, head of translation medicine department, SRM University.

A week ago, when the veterinarian removed the scaffold from the mammal, scientists noticed how the cartilage cells had expanded. “A large part of the scaffold had disappeared. If we had left it for a little longer we would have had better results. We are now using this sample to check on the tensile strength and other mechanical properties,” he said.

Pathologists from the laboratory told them that they did not notice anything largely abnormal from the samples.

The scientists have been given permission by the statutory body – the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) – to expand the experiments in 18 more rabbits.

Updated: February 6, 2018 — 11:48 am

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