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3D printing for realistic reproduction of human ears

2024-04-17 16:04

Recently, research teams from Weill Cornell School of Medicine and Cornell School of Engineering have successfully utilized cutting-edge tissue engineering technology and 3D printing technology to create an adult ear replica that looks and feels extremely realistic. This achievement has been published online in the Journal of Biomaterials.
 

This study means that for those who have lost their ears due to congenital deformities or certain reasons in life, a transplanted ear with precise anatomical structure and correct biomechanical properties will no longer be an unattainable dream.
Dr. Jason Spector, Director of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Wellcome Medical Center, stated, "Ear reconstruction surgery not only requires multiple surgical interventions, but also exquisite artistic and surgical skills. This new technology may provide a realistic option for thousands of patients who need to undergo external ear deformity correction surgery in the future."
Traditionally, doctors create replacement ears by removing cartilage from children's ribs, which can cause pain and scars. Although the resulting graft can resemble the other ear in appearance, it often lacks flexibility. In order to find a more natural alternative, Dr. Spector and his team adopted a new method in this study, which uses animal derived cartilage that has been specially processed to remove components that may trigger immune rejection. These cartilage are filled into a 3D printed fine ear shaped plastic scaffold designed based on personal ear data. This method not only reinforces the graft, but also effectively prevents its contraction.
 

In the following three to six months, this structure developed into cartilage tissue that almost perfectly replicated the anatomical features of the ear, including the spiral edge of the auricle, the spiral edge inside the ear, and the central auricular fossa. "This is an achievement that we were unable to achieve before," Dr. Spector said. In order to further test the texture of the ears, Dr. Spector conducted a series of biomechanical studies together with his long-term engineering partners, Daljit S. from the Mindning School of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, and Dr. Larry Bonassar, a biomedical engineering professor at Elaine Sarkaria. These studies confirm that replicated ears are highly similar to human ear cartilage in terms of flexibility and elasticity, but slightly weaker in strength, with the possibility of tearing.
To overcome this challenge, Dr. Spector plans to introduce chondrocytes from the other ear of the patient, which will produce elastin and enhance the robustness of the ear cartilage, in order to create a transplant that is biomechanically closer to the native ear.