3D-printed prosthetic ear made with biodegradable material, tech may be used for other cartilage implants
Parents of children born with a condition called microtia that precludes them from having properly developed auricles would be delighted to hear about yet another biofabrication success, namely a team of Israeli researchers developing a 3D-printed "scaffold" to reconstruct human auricles. Scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in cooperation with the Sheba Medical Center, used biodegradable material to print a scaffold as a base for tailored cartilage implants. The unique form of the ear scaffold is programmed into the 3D printer after a CT scan, reflecting the patient's individual shape and form.
The deliberately porous material makes it easier for cartilage-building chondrocytes and mesenchymal stem cells to hold on to it and grow stable cartilage before the base ultimately dissolves. The resulting constructs were monitored in the lab for up to six weeks, and then successfully implanted on mice to prove the 3D-printed auricle's viability. "Graft integration was successful, and the prosthetic ear demonstrated good biomechanical function," announced the researchers.
Just as with 3D-printed prosthetic eyes, the method would be much gentler on children with microtia as it doesn't involve the usual painful costal cartilage grafts. It can also be applied to patients as young as six, instead of waiting until the kid is ten as has been the practice so far. According to one of the project's leads, Professor Shulamit Levenberg, the technique may allow her team to ultimately move to other 3D-printed body parts that involve cartilage reconstruction:
One of the challenges in the study was to find a suitable 3D printing method, since fabricating an ear necessitates the use of biodegradable materials that break down in the body without harming it but have an extremely accurate external structure and small pores. We demonstrated all of this in the present research and estimate that it will be possible to tailor our technology to other applications, such as nasal reconstruction and fabrication of various orthopedic implants.