Feb.21, 2013

3D printing out body parts? Cornell University researchers have engineered artificial human ears that look and act like the real thing using a 3D printer, giving hope to patients missing all or part of their ears.

(Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell, holds a fabricated ear, on February 13, 2013.)

An ear is difficult to reproduce with synthetic prostheses because ear cartilage is very unique. It is flexible but well strong, so the typical way is to carve a replacement ear out of rib cartilage. But the process is often painful, especially for children, as the ears rarely look natural or perform well.

In a study published online in the PLOS ONE journal, Cornell biomedical engineers and Weill Cornell Medical College physicians announced that the new 3D printed ears, practically identical to human ones, could provide the solution.

"This is such a win-win for both medicine and basic science, demonstrating what we can achieve when we work together," said co-lead author Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell.

Bonassar and his colleagues first scanned the ears of his 5-year-old twin daughters, and then used a 3D printer to build a plastic mold based on the digitized 3D image. A high-density, injectable gel made of living cells helped fill the mold. Once the mold removed, cartilage was grown on the collagen.

(In a laboratory at Cornell University, an ear is fabricated by a 3D printer.)

And researchers praised the speed of the process, noting it takes half a day to build the mold, about a day to print it, 30 minutes to inject the gel and the ear can be removed just 15 minutes later.

"We trim the ear and then let it culture for several days in nourishing cell culture media before it is implanted," Bonassar said in a statement.

The new ears could provide the solution long sought by reconstructive surgeons to treat thousands of children born with the congenital deformity microtia, along with those who suffered ear loss to cancer or in an accident.

Weill Cornell associate professor Jason Spector noted that physicians could reduce the chances of rejection by using human cells from the same patient to build the ear.

The best time to implant a bioengineered ear on a child would be around the age of five or six, when ears are at about 80 percent of their adult size.

This new ear would have to be tested in larger animals before it's used in humans, Bonassar says. Spector predicted that researchers could try the first human implant of a Cornell bioengineered ear in as little as three years.







Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Jon wrote at 2/26/2013 11:28:08 AM:

oh wow! could this technology be used for other applications? say like for cosmetic reconstruction? such as a person that has been mutilated in a car accident? Like to replace a nose? I mean its amazing enough with what it does with EARS - but COULD it be done for other body or facial "parts"?

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