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A New Windpipe...A New Ear?

I was fascinated by an article and video clip that I saw on the BBC News website a few days ago: the world's first synthetic organ transplant. What first piqued my interest was the word synthetic – implying a technique that does not need a donor – and the fact it was a windpipe transplant. Having a professional interest in anything speech or hearing related I read on with increasing amazement.

Scientists in London created an artificial windpipe that is an exact replica of the patient’s own diseased trachea which was then coated in stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow. No external donor and the individual’s own stem cells being used means there is no risk of the organ being rejected. After only two days, the millions of holes in the porous windpipe had been seeded with the patient's own tissue.

This ground-breaking surgery involved global co-operation. Professor Paolo Macchiarini from Italy led the surgery, which took place at the Swedish Karolinska University Hospital. Professor Macchiarini told the BBC, "Thanks to nanotechnology, this new branch of regenerative medicine, we are now able to produce a custom-made windpipe within two days or one week. The beauty of this is you can have it immediately.‘’

Alex Seifalian, Professor of Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at UCL, whose research is funded by the Wellcome Trust, has big plans for his synthetic tissue. A machine can create a metre long synthetic tube in 20 minutes. "The material pulses like an artery and we can make it different diameters" he said. "We plan to use it for arteries, larger structures like aorta and it could even be used to create an ear, nose or replacement skin."

Of course that last quote made me sit up and take note again with my ‘hearing’ hat on….Potentially a new synthetic ear for those who have had their pinnas or perhaps even their ear canals damaged or have a deformed ear structure from birth. I am constantly being astonished by modern technology….onto the next!