Grafts that replicate the human ear!

Researchers produce 3D printed grafts replicating the human ear

Image showing 3D lazer printing

Scientists have used state-of-the-art tissue engineering techniques and a 3D printer to create a replica of an adult human ear that looks and feels natural – good news for people who may be born with a malformed ear, or who experience trauma to an ear.

Ears are extremely hard to reconstruct – requiring multiple surgical procedures, not to mention a high level of artistry from the surgeon. This new technology may therefore lead to a solution that feels real for thousands of people.

Traditionally, surgeons would build a replacement ear using cartilage removed from the patient’s ribs. However, this can be an extremely painful operation, and the graft doesn’t have the flexibility of an ear.

In the new study, researchers used animal-derived cartilage loaded into intricate, ear-shaped plastic scaffolds that were created on a 3D printer based on data from the patient’s ear. The cartilage acted as an internal reinforcement to induce new tissue to form within the scaffold.

Over a six-month period the structure developed into cartilage containing tissue that closely replicated the ear’s anatomical features. This hadn’t been achieved before. What’s more, the replica had similar flexibility and elasticity to a human ear.

While there’s some way to go to make the material as strong as natural cartilage, this is fantastic news for many hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

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