Dec 19, 2016 | By Tess

A doctor from China’s Kunming Medical Second Hospital has made headlines for having used 3D printing to help grow an ear out of a patient’s arm. Yes, you read that right: a doctor is growing an ear on a human’s arm. Read on to find out how.

About a year ago, the patient, one Mr. Zhang, was seriously injured in a car accident. Fortunately, and thanks to the Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, his life was saved and many of his injuries were appropriately treated. According to the patient, he underwent a total of nine surgeries before beginning his post-accident recovery.

Despite having saved his life, doctors were ultimately unable to save Mr. Zhang’s ear, which was irreparably damaged in the accident. And though his hearing was relatively unimpaired, the physical appearance of missing an ear (and some other facial tissues) was difficult for Mr. Zhang and left him to struggle emotionally.

Fortunately, Mr. Zhang was given hope again by Dr. Wang Jihua, the director of Plastic Surgery at the Kunming Medical Second Hospital, who informed him there was a chance to give him a brand new ear. As the patient explained, “When Director Wang told me that they can help me rebuild an ear, my first thought was it was only a substitute, I did not think it would be a real ear. Looking at the ear that gradually growing on my arm, I still feel incredible. “

Of course, growing an ear out of someone’s arm is a relatively experimental process, which involved a few less-than-standard steps. First off, the doctor had to prepare the patient’s arm for the implantation of a new ear, which required embedding a skin expander into his right forearm. To increase the volume of the skin, the doctors had to regularly inject water into the arm. The next step involved cutting out part of the patient’s costal cartilage (located near the ribs) to serve as the material for the new ear.

To get the shape of the ear, the doctor 3D printed an ear model and carved the extracted cartilage accordingly, to mimic the shape of the ear. Once the cartilage was the right shape, it was implanted into the patient’s right arm, under the skin flap that had formed. Now, through a process of microsurgical vascular anastomosis, the doctors are waiting for the ear to finish growing out of the arm so that it can be removed and transplanted onto the patient’s head.

According to Dr Wang, the procedure was inspired by Professor Guo Shuzhong from the Xi'an Jiaotong University, who was responsible for the world’s first ear reconstruction surgery. “The situation of the patient and Mr. Zhang is basically the same,” explained Wang. “In the last ten years, our department has completed more than 300 cases of microtia deformity auricular reconstruction surgery and has a wealth of clinical experience. Under professor Guo’s technical guidance, we decided to carry out the operation.”

As mentioned, 3D printing played an important part in carving the new ear out of cartilage, as a 3D printed model provided a carving guide for the doctors. Currently, the operation is in its second stage, which means the doctors are waiting for the arm-ear to grow properly until it is a proper enough shape to be removed from the arm and implanted onto the head. Dr. Wang estimates it will be another three months or so before they are ready to implant.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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