Doctors Grow An Ear On Woman’s Arm

Once again, the human body and human genius collaborate on something that’s … incredibly disgusting. But also very cool. The story:

The discovery of a rapidly-spreading basal cell cancer in her ear in 2008 required the removal of part of her ear, part of her skull and her left ear canal. But now, in a groundbreaking and complicated set of surgeries, Johns Hopkins doctors have attached a new ear made from Walters’ own tissue.

“I thought of this exact strategy many years before and really was looking for the right patient to try it on,” said renowned plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Patrick Byrne.

Byrne used cartilage from Walters’ ribs to stitch together a new ear matching her right ear. He then implanted it under the skin of her forearm, where it grew for months.

I debated adding the remarkably disturbing photo, but it is very cool, so I’m embedding it after the jump:

Previous experiments didn’t go quite as well:

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    Yikes! I looked at the slideshow downloaded from the link you gave and wow, quite graphic surgery pictures. I wonder what her arm looks like now, because they took a huge piece of skin off of it. And I can’t say the new “ear” looks quite right either. As an ethicist, I wonder if it was worth it. There is always the danger of doctors experimenting on people more for the doctor’s benefit than the patient’s. But thanks a ton for posting this, I can talk about it in my class next week.

  • victor

    Yeah, or you could run into a situation where someone thinks they can raise a little extra money by farming out their arms as ear factories for other people (not to mention what they’d make on bar bets alone). I wondered about what they were going to do about the arm now, too. They could take skin off her leg to cover it, and then take a graft off her back to cover the empty space on her leg, I guess.

    Either way, it kind of gives new meaning to the phrase “talk to the hand!” Or arm. Whatever.

  • Linebyline

    Again: Great news. Extremely creepy photo.

    I wonder why just growing the new ear on the side of her head wasn’t a possibility.

  • OzMom

    Amazing! My son was born without a left ear and I know about this procedure. It’s not new at all; it’s been the standard for maybe half a century. What is new is growing the harvested cartilage in the arm first instead of trying to insert it directly on site on the side of the head, where the skin is thin and there’s a high failure rate. This procedure is not even attempted on a site where there is any scar tissue, which this woman had. Done this way, the transplant has a rich and native network of blood vessels already in place. (This is unlikely to work well with donors, I guess.) And the results, I assure you, look amazing compared to what I’ve seen. The benefits are several. For one, hearing will improve – the outer ear does have a function. And she will regain the symmetry that she lost through cancer. It will improve her self confidence and her social life. Sure, she has nasty scars on her arm. But how many photos of arms do you see on Facebook profiles? Good stuff.


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