Researchers at the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College use 3-D printing and injectable gel molds to create an artificial ear that looks, feels and functions like a natural one.
Laboratory Director Dr Jason Spector says this method is “absolutely” the best option for reconstructive surgeons seeking to help children with microtia or children who’ve lost part of an ear to cancer or trauma.
“This approach really combines the cutting edge of imaging, simple biology and our bioengineering know-how,” Spector continued. “What it does, essentially, is create an exact replica of the patient’s contralateral (other side) ear.”
Co-author of the study with Dr Spector, Dr Lawrence Bonassar speaks to the superiority of the 3-D method of reconstruction over the two current methods. The first method involves implanting an artificial, Styrofoam-like material in the patient.
“There’s a big problem with these implants actually extruding through the skin after they’re implanted,” Bonassar said. “That can be dangerous and painful.”
Of the second available option, harvesting rib cartilage from a rib and carving it into the shape of an ear, Bonassar said the process involves two long and painful surgeries.
An added plus for the new method is that it’s fast. After the researchers have made a digital 3-D image of a patient’s ear, they convert the image into a solid ear using a 3-D printer to make a mold into which they inject a high-density, fast-growing gel that acts as a scaffold upon which cartilage can grow.
This part of the process takes only about a day and a half. Then the ear is left in a nourishing cell culture for several days before being implanted in a person.
“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,” Spector said. “The use of our special collagen hydro-gel allows the cells to not only survive, but thrive, and lay down a cartilaginous matrix.”
Source: Discovery News, February 20, 2013 Study published in PLOS ONE, February 20, 2012