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3D Printers Create Prosthetic Ears From Living Ink

Physicians at Cornell University say have succeeded in building a replica of the human ear that looks and acts like a real ear. And that’s good news for the thousands of children born with congenital ear deformity every year and those who have lost an ear to accident or cancer.

They did it with the help of a 3D Printer. Instead of ink, this printer uses a gel made of living cells. Once these ears were put together, they continued to steadily grow cartilage to replace the bio-material used to mold them.

Replacement ears are now constructed out of a Styrofoam-like material with a base sometimes made by harvesting a rib from the patient. That surgery can be painful and very scary for young patients. For these replacement ears, a combination of a laser scan and panoramic photo is used on the patient and it only takes 30 seconds to complete Plus it it only takes a week to make these new ears.

“The process is fast,”  One of the researchers, Dr.  Lawrence Bonassar says. “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 a nourishing cell culture medium before it is implanted.”

Doctors say the ideal candidate would be a child between five and six. The surgery would involve inserting the bio-engineered new ear under a flap of skin.

The  scientists even hope that the ears might grow along with the child, doing away with the need for further surgery.  Researchers say they expect to start implanting these ears sometime in the next 3 years.

~ Cynthia