It’s not quite creating a whole person from a single rib, but there is something biblical to this video of surgery for Kieran Sorkin, who was born without ears. The condition, known as Microtia, also causes partial deafness, but this has already been treated through a hearing aid.
Sorkin’s appearance caused him grief until new ears were fashioned for him. “I want people to stop asking me questions,” Sorkin told the BBC. “I’d like to look just like my friends.” There is a practical side to his desires as well. "I'd also like to be able to wear sunglasses and earphones."
Surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London cut a little cartilage each from six of Sorkin’s ribs to create a framework for the ears. These were then inserted in pockets of skin to grow into fully formed ears.
Sorkin’s mother noted that, while her son is very sociable, other children have bullied him for his appearance. It is to be hoped that the product of Sorkin’s ribs will stop the ribbing.
The technology is not new – in fact Great Ormond Street manufactures about 40 ears a year, but these are usually to replace a missing ear lost in an accident. Plastic surgeon Dr Neil Bulstrode described the procedure as more of a challenge because there was no matching ear on which to base the design.
The Great Ormond Street team hope to replace cartilage with the far less invasive option of stem cells collected from fat tissue. The widely shared image of the Vacanti mouse, with a human-shaped ear on its back, was a step towards this goal, but application to humans remains a way off.
The first stage of Sorkin’s ear creation has been deemed a success, but a further operation will be conducted in six months to make them stand out more from his scalp. Meanwhile, his ribs are sore, but have suffered no permanent damage.
The video above has some images that may be too graphic for viewers, but it is worth seeing the beginning and end, just to catch Sorkin’s joy at the difference the operation has made.