PEOPLE in need of surgery to repair or reconstruct damaged cartilage could soon find help in an unlikely place - their ears. Stem cells from human ears have successfully been grown into chunks of cartilage that could replace the synthetic materials currently used in surgery.

Takanori Takebe at Yokohama City University in Japan is the first to confirm that the ear contains a source of stem cells, hidden in tissue called the perichondrium.

Takebe’s team removed part of the perichondrium from human ears and injected it into mice. The transplanted cells successfully grew into cartilage, which was still healthy after 10 months (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1109767108).

"We are now preparing for the first clinical application [of the technique] in our university hospital," says Takebe.