3D Printing and Bioengineering Work Together to Print a Working Human Ear

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3D printing has brought us all sorts of neat household gadgets and delightful statuettes and toys, but the real advances made possible by the technology might not be in the home, but in the lab. Take, for example, this replacement human ear, engineered from rat tail cells and cow cartilage and given shape in a 3D printed mold of a patient’s own ear.

The Cornell team reported it’s success with the ear today in the the journal PLOS ONE. The process starts by taking a digital scan of the patient’s intact ear and transforming that scan into a 3D printed mold. The mold is then filled with a substance composed of collagen (derived from the tail cells of rats) and about a quarter billion cartilage cells (taken from a cow, though it’s not clear which part) and allowed to harden before being placed in a nutrient bath to culture and take shape, the collagen offering a scaffold for the cartilage grow into a replica ear.

Yes, the process is exactly like making a Jell-O mold, except from living cells, and resulting in a functioning human ear that kicks the pants off of current plastics replacement models in helping to restore patients’ hearing. It’s also a much faster process because seriously, you are basically making a human ear implant Jell-O mold. Co-author Lawrence Bonassar gives us the timeline:

“It takes half a day to design the mold, a day or so to print it, 30 minutes to inject the gel, and we can remove the ear 15 minutes later. We trim the ear and then let it culture for several days in nourishing cell culture media before it is implanted.”

Developed to help patients suffering from a childhood deformity that destroys their ears, the prosthetic could also provide a replacement for people who have lost all or part of their ears to cancer or accidents.

(via Cornell University)

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