The growth of the 3D printed ear
Here at Personalize we see a lot of advancements and uses for 3D printing but nothing excites us more than a medicinal application.
Physicians and biomedical engineers at Cornell have created a facsimile, working replica of a human ear, one that can be used to treat children born with a rare condition called microtia. Microtia is a deformity found in up to 4 in 10,000 births per year, the child’s internal ear workings are usually fine but the external structure, which helps capture sound, is either missing or severely deformed.
Currently a replacement ear is often just made of polystyrene like material and therefore not particularly effective in aural capture or is harvested from a child’s rib which is a painful and drawn out process. The widely spread image of the Vacanti mouse, where what appeared to be a human ear was grown on the back of a mouse has not proved successful in the long term.
This new process, pioneered at Weill Cornell Medical College , involves creating a 3D image of an ear, in some cases replicating the other ear, 3D printing a mould of the ear and injecting that mould with animal-derived collagen (like the stuff used in Angelina Jolie’s lips!) and over 250 million cartilage cells.
The ear is the best replacement ear at appearing and behaving like a natural ear, the process of making the ears and is fast, taking about a week at most. The new ear is often placed on a child at around 5-6 years old because by then ears are at about 80% fully grown. Here’s a really neat bit, researchers believe that these ears stand a great chance at growing at the same rate as the other “normal” ear.
The PLOS ONE study’s co-author Dr. Jason Spector says, "These bioengineered ears are highly promising because they precisely mirror the native architecture of the human ear. They should restore hearing and a normal appearance to children and others in need. This advance represents a very exciting collaboration between physicians and basic scientists. It is a demonstration of what we hope to do together to improve the lives of these patients with ear deformity, missing ears and beyond."