10/09/2012 06:40 BST | Updated 10/09/2012 07:03 BST

Replacement Ears Grown On Rats (PHOTOS)

Scientists famously grew what appeared to be a human ear on the back of a mouse back in 1995. But for all it looked like a real ear, the Vacanti Mouse, as it was known, was actually just carrying a shaped piece of cartilage grown around a mould.

Now they've really done it.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have grown a replacement ear identical to a patient's own for the first time.

It is thought the first fully-grown ear could be fitted to a patient within 12 months.

The process involves making a computer model of a patient's ear, and fabricating a titanium framework covered in collagen to match. A small piece of cartilage from the nose or ribs is then 'seeded' on to the scaffold, and grown in a lab for about two weeks.

It's at that point that the ear would be implanted into a human patient, where it would hopefully grow to its full size and shape.

Above: the ear-scaffold and a completed 3D plastic model

Currently the scientists are implanting the initially-grown ears onto rats and sheep to prove the ears will last, and can be made successfully.

The team now needs approval from the American Food And Drug Administration (FDA) before making human trials of the process.

The breakthrough is just one of several initiatives funded by a new $300m government institute, the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

The Associated Press reported that advanced medical tools are being fast-tracked to help wounded veterans.

Some of the other techniques include using pig tissue to develop ways to regrow thigh muscle, and 'spray on' cells and skin to heal burns and wounds.