I get emails every other week with questions regarding cartilage engineering and where we are with this technology. I felt I should write a few thoughts down.

Well, another article just came out recently about cartilage engineering for microtia ear reconstruction. It states that researchers in Japan are about five years away from implanting (into humans) lab-grown ears made out of a patient’s own cartilage.

I had previously posted exciting news about the “future of microtia surgery” after visiting experts in the cartilage engineering field at the Harvard/MIT Research lab last year in Boston. What I saw was very exciting, and the effort of these scientists was extremely admirable. Once this technology becomes a reality, it will revolutionize the treatment of microtia, but it is very important to emphasize that it appears we are still years away from this being the mainstay of treatment. It could still be three, five, maybe ten years away. Funding is needed to help these extraordinary researchers.

As you can see, this technology has existed for many years but has not quite made it to actual clinical practice in humans. I feel very confident that with the advances in tissue engineering techniques and with the dedication of scientists all over the world, this will become a reality…we are just not quite sure how soon.

How do I think this technology will change the present management of microtia? Let’s begin with the options out there.

Even when the cartilage engineering technology for microtia reconstruction becomes a reality, all of the tissue handling techniques must still be respected. If soft tissues are not handled correctly or if postoperative care is not managed correctly, the results will vary dramatically, so surgeons must never become complacent.

Finally, times are very exciting…especially for parents with newborns who are still 5-6 years away from making decisions about microtia reconstruction. The hope is that we will at least be closer to the reality of cartilage engineering. We will keep our fingers crossed!

Dr. Bonilla