The Project

The goal of this Swiss National Science Foundation-funded Sinergia project is to develop a clinical solution for patients with microtia – a birth defect in which the outer ear of a child is malformed or absent. Microtia patients suffer from socio-psychological stress and the current gold treatment is a surgical reconstruction of the auricle using autologous rib cartilage, a procedure which is invasive, has a high complication rate and causes donor site morbidity.

Generating a full-sized bioengineered ear is challenging due to the large number of cells required, the need for fully biocompatible biomaterials and complex interactions which exist between the cartilage framework and the over- and underlying tissues.  There is also a lack of fundamental knowledge about the biological processes of auricular growth and development.

The main goal of this project is to produce an engineered auricle with subsequent transplantation. The steps to achieve this goal are:

1) to find a source of chondroprogenitor cells;
2) to explore the molecular mechanisms of auricular morphogenesis;
3) to develop bioprinted cartilage –EarCartilage with engineered perichondrium to achieve growth of cartilage;
4) to develop a pigmented skin graft- EarSkin, to cover the engineered cartilage;
5) to establish a pre-clinical animal model to test EarSkin and EarCartilage.

The project is a collaboration of four research groups:
1) Marcy Zenobi-Wong, Tissue Engineering & Biofabrication Laboratory, ETH Zürich (ETH)
2) Ernst Reichmann, Tissue Biology Research Unit (TBRU), Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich
3) Nicole Rotter, University Hospital Mannheim (UMM)
4) Filippo Rijli, Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI).