The patient, whose surname is Ji, suffered severe injuries on the right side of his face and lost his right ear in a traffic accident over a year ago.
As it was impossible to regenerate another ear over the scar, Guo Shuzhong, a leading plastic surgeon at the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University, decided to “plant” an ear on Ji’s forearm and then transplanted it to his head.
The plastic surgery was divided into three stages. During the first stage, a skin expander was set in Ji’s right forearm. In the second stage, doctors extracted cartilage from Ji’s rib and carved it to build the new ear. The cartilage was then planted under the expanded skin on the patient’s arm, allowing the new ear to grow.
Guo and his colleagues performed the third stage of the plastic surgery on Wednesday when they successfully transplanted the regenerated ear onto Ji’s head using microsurgical techniques. The operation lasted seven hours.
After the surgery, the newly transplanted ear appeared pink in the light of the operating room lamp. Guo and his colleagues heard the sound of blood flow using a Doppler blood vessel detector, indicating the surgery was successful.
Guo said the surgery was very difficult because they had to transplant the regenerated ear to an appropriate place on the head that could supply adequate blood flow to the ear to ensure normal functioning after surgery.
The patient is in stable condition. He will be discharged from the hospital in about two weeks when his new ear can work normally.
Guo and his colleagues also used 3D printing technology to make the regenerated ear look more realistic.
Guo and his team create regenerated ears for about 500 children each year.
In another scientific feat, a team of Chinese postgraduates have created an octopus-inspired soft robotic arm that can be used to heal injuries.
The students, from Beijing-based Beihang University, exhibited their prototype Thursday after developing it with a foreign firm.
Soft robots are constructed with materials like silicone, plastic, fabric, rubber or compliant mechanical parts like springs.
“The softness makes it possible for the robots to work more effectively and safely with humans and can be used for rehabilitation and recovery or in the service sector,” said Wang Tianmiao, a robotics engineer at the university.
The robotic soft arm is inspired by the tentacles of octopus, Wang said, “It can bend and swirl quickly, and the suction cups help it adhere tightly to objects of different shapes and sizes.”
In five to ten years, the robotic arm is expected to be used in minimal-invasive surgery and athletic rehabilitation, said Wen Li, associate professor in Beihang University and head of the team.