British doctors have developed a new technique that can reconstruct children's faces by rebuilding ears and noses with stem cells taken from their own fat.
Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London believe a tiny sample of fat can be taken from the child and stem cells can be extracted and grown from it.
An ear-shaped "scaffold" would be placed in the stem cell broth so the cells would take on the desired shape and structure. Chemicals would be used to persuade the stem cells to transform into cartilage cells.
This could then be implanted beneath the skin to give the child an ear shape.
The researchers have been able to create the cartilage in the scaffold, but safety testing is needed before they could be used in patients, 'BBC News' reported.
The new method aims to treat conditions like microtia, that leads to a missing or malformed ear.
Currently, children have cartilage taken from their ribs, which is then sculpted by surgeons to resemble an ear and implanted into the child.
It requires multiple operations, leaves permanent scarring on the chest and the rib cartilage never recovers.
The new technique could be used to create cartilage for other tissues such as the nose, which can be damaged in adults after cancer surgery.
Doctors said they could also make bone using the same starting material.
"Obviously we are at the beginning of this, the next step will be to perfect just the choice of materials and to develop this further," said one of the researchers, Dr Patrizia Ferretti.