Feb 8, 2018 | By Tess

Doctors and medical scientists in Chennai, India are developing a method for 3D printing implantable ears. The research, which has been underway for two years but is moving ahead steadily, could one day be used to produce 3D printed ears for children with ear-related birth defects.

The first step in producing the implantable 3D printed ears is cultivating cartilage cells (also known as chondrocytes) from the host patient in a special solution. The cultivation process, which the researchers say lasts about three weeks, allows these cells to grow and multiply in a controlled environment. The solution they are placed in, a combination of organic and synthetic materials, provides nutrition that allows the cells to thrive.

At the end of the cultivation period, the cartilage cells are “seeded” onto a 3D printed scaffold made into the shape of the ear. The scaffold, 3D printed from a biodegradable and biocompatible material, provides the base shape for the cells to grow on.

With the cell-infused scaffold, the scientists are then ready to implant the ear-shaped structure into the host (under the skin) where it can continue to grow into a full ear shape.

At this stage in their research, the scientists say they are testing the method on rabbits to see not only how effective it is, but how the scaffold acts and disintegrates in the body and what the quality of the resulting cartilage structure is.

In a recent test, the Chennai-based team implanted the 3D printed and cartilage cell scaffold onto a rabbit. “We kept it under the skin in the rabbit's abdomen for three months,” said Dr. Shantanu Patil from SRM University. “We also left an empty scaffold on the other side of the abdomen.”

Just one week ago, the team had a veterinarian take the scaffold out from the rabbit’s abdomen to see the results. Notably, the doctors noted that the cartilage cells had grown and that the scaffold had begun to disintegrate.

“A large part of the scaffold had disappeared,” Dr. Patil added. “If we had left it for a little longer we would have had better results. We are now using this sample to check on the tensile strength and other mechanical properties.”

While the research team still has a long way to go before its 3D printed ears become viable for human implantation, it wanted to spread the word about its achievements in the wake of an announcement from China that doctors had successfully grown 3D printed ears for children with microtia.

The team also added that it is preparing to launch a “large-scale animal study to reconfirm” its results before moving on to a human trial. It has reportedly been granted permission to conduct experiments on 18 more rabbits by the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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