In a world first, Chinese scientists have given five children new ears that were grown in a lab from their own cells.

Each of the children, aged six to 10, had one ear affected by microtia -- a condition where the external part of the ear is undeveloped, often causing hearing difficulties.

As explained in the journal EBioMedicine, the scientists started by creating reversed 3D-printed replicas of each child’s fully formed ear. That replica was then used to make a biodegradable mold filled with tiny holes. The molds were then filled with cartridge cells taken from the children’s malformed ears and left in a lab to grow.

After 12 weeks, these newly engineered ears were then implanted on the children. After two-and-a-half years, the scientists say, they “achieved satisfactory aesthetical outcome with mature cartilage formation.”

“In conclusion,” the researchers added, “the results represent a significant breakthrough in clinical translation of tissue engineered human ear-shaped cartilage given the established in vitro engineering technique and suitable surgical procedure.”

Ear procedure

A flow chart for schematic illustration of auricular reconstruction based on in vitro tissue engineered human ear-shaped cartilage. (EBioMedicine)