Scientists Use 3-D Printing To Create A Replacement Ear

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old


3-D printers, right? We talk about them fairly often on this site, because even though it isn’t the instant fix that science fiction devices all seem to share, it’s something that sci-fi never quite prepared us for. Sure, the Jetsons probably had cooler shit, but they didn’t use it to do everything. Stories of new advancements come along on a regular basis, and the amount of things being printed says nothing of the vast number of designs that are then put into play for each item. Which just makes me wonder about the things being printed that nobody knows about…

Anyway, this story involves Cornell University scientists printing an ear. No, nothing about a boutonni√®re, I said “printed an ear!” AN EAR! It isn’t a human ear just yet, though, but the undeniable success with a cow’s cartilage was the last step before climbing the up experimental food chain. For a study in PLOS One, co-authors Lawrence Bonassar, Alyssa Reiffel, and Jason Spector, with the help of other researchers, presented their experiment and findings, which should hopefully help children born with malformed ears, or anyone who has lost it due to disease or an accident. I knew I shouldn’t have left the iron right next to my cell phone!

But seriously, this is pretty awesome stuff. Because cartilage doesn’t require all the blood vessels that the body’s organs do, this will probably be the first major medical advancement to go widespread for the still young concept of what the researchers refer to as “high-fidelity tissue engineering.” Well, one of them anyway. It works the same as most other non-ear printing processes. A 3-D camera is used to get the ear’s precise measurements — in this case, one of Bonnassar’s five-year-old twin daughters was used as a model — and a soft polymer mold was printed out and injected with a collagen rich in cartilage-producing cow cells.

As the weeks went by, the cartilage soon started replacing the gel, and by three months, it was, by all accounts, a flexible and fully working outer ear. The next step will be to use a human patient’s cells, with the goal of one day being able to implant it without requiring invasive surgeries.

So, while Big Pharma is still keeping back all the secret cancer cures and cheap prescription pills — I’m kidding, folks — scientists are figuring out ways to help people that are vastly superior to their bulky, unrealistic predecessors. And until noses join the list and the process starts up a trend of strip mall optional reconstructive surgery centers, it will be a job well done by the medical field.


Image by Lindsay France/Cornell University Photography

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