Cornell bioengineers have combined 3-D printing with injectable gel molds to create an artificial ear that looks and functions like a real human ear. The new bioengineering method offers a more natural-feeling and painless alternative to conventional reconstructive surgery and prosthetics. The technology could help children born with microtia, congenital deformity and those who suffered ear loss due to cancer or an accident.

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Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, along with his colleague Dr. Lawrence Bonassar first constructed the ears with a digitized 3D image of a person’s ear. The image was used to build a mold of a solid ear using a 3D printer. The mold was then filled with a high-density, injectable gel made of living cells. After the removal of the mold, cartilage was grown on the collagen.

“The reason why cartilage tissue engineering lends itself to this type of approach is that cartilage is unique—it doesn’t require an immediate blood supply to survive,” said Spector. “The use of our special collagen hydro-gel allows the cells to not only survive, but thrive, and lay down a cartilaginous matrix.”

The best time for implanting the 3D-printed ear would be around the age of 5 or 6, when the head and ears reach 80 percent of adult size, said Spector.

The researchers are now developing ways of using cartilage cells to create synthetic organ transplants, by mixing cartilage cells with stem cells extracted from bone marrow. The procedure could take less than 30 minutes, instead of 5 to 6 hours required for rib cartilage harvesting surgery, according to Spector.

+ Weill Cornell Medical College

Via Discovery News