We’ve all seen the images of the rat growing a human ear on its back, but now, thanks to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, we’re one step closer to becoming our very own body-part farms. Doctors have helped a cancer patient by growing a replacement ear on her own arm.
In 2008 Sherrie Walters’ doctors discovered a rapidly spreading basal cell cancer in her left ear. Treatment was successful, but required the removal of parts of her ear, skull, and ear canal. Now, using a groundbreaking new procedure, doctors took cartilage from Walters’ rib cage, fashioned it into the shape of an ear, and implanted it into her forearm. There it was left to grow on its own for months.
Walters says, “I feel like an experiment.” Though she may feel a little like a lab rat, she and her husband, Damien, have a good sense of humor about the whole thing. After a while they began making jokes, like her husband talking to her arm, saying, “Can you hear me?” Isn’t that exactly what you would do in the same situation?
Dr. Patrick Byrne, a well-known reconstructive and plastic surgeon, later transplanted the ear, and attached the blood vessels. An additional surgery added shape and definition to the new ear. Byrne said, “I thought of this exact strategy many years before and really was looking for the right patient to try it on.”
Walters still has a couple of minor surgeries remaining to finish things up, but she is able to hear out of her left side with the help of specially designed hearing aid.
Walters hopes her story will be a cautionary tale to others, saying, “It’s a cliché, but use the sunscreen, and if you are not sure about something, get it checked because that’s what I didn’t do.”