I bet you thought 3D printing couldn’t possibly get even cooler! Most of the geek world let their imaginations run wild at the amount of possibilities 3D printing technology could offer. 3D printing technology has hit mainstream with an enthusiastic ‘bang’. It’s actually quite incredible what’s already being done, whether in manufacturing, action figures and yes, even the fashion world is getting involved.
But, printing out body parts?
Cornell University: Replacement Ear
Researchers at Cornell University showed us it’s very possible to create a body part, by creating a replacement ear using a 3D printing technology; along with injections of living cells. Tissue regeneration is nothing new in the scientific field, and last Wednesday it was reported that the first steps towards growing customized ears for children born with malformed ones; or for people who might have lost one to an accident or disease, is well on its way.
According to the researchers, combining 3D printing technology and tissue regeneration might offer a faster method to produce body parts with more life -like results.
This enables us to rapidly customize implants for whoever needs them, said Cornell biomedical engineer Lawrence Bonassar, who co-authored the research published online in the journal PLoS One.
3D printers work by gradually layering materials to form shapes. Most of the time, we find 3D printing used in manufacturing, architecture, and many other aspects of technology development. 3D printers are now becoming much more affordable, with the general public taking a huge interest in the much smaller designs of 3D printers.
But, how exactly did they manage to replicate a human ear?
The first step, with the help from cartilage from a cow, was crafting a human-shaped ear. Obtaining cartilage from a cow is much easier than obtaining it from a human. Cow cartilage is also uniquely flexible, allowing scientists to make up (or build) human ears. Dr. Jason Spector of Weill Cornell medical Center is currently working on the next step: how to cultivate enough of a child’s remaining ear cartilage in a lab to grow an entirely new ear.
The team then started with a 3D camera that scanned a child’s ear. Once the scan is complete, the 3D camera beams the ear’s geometry into a computer. Using 3D printing technology for this feat means no mess from molding, and more importantly, no radiation from a CT scan.
From that image, the 3D printer produced a soft mold of the ear. Bonassar injected it with a special collagen full of cow cells that produce cartilage – forming a “scaffolding”. The entire process took less than a day.
According to the press release;
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 nourishing cell culture media before it is implanted – According to Bonassar.
The next step is to use a patient’s own cells in the 3D printing process. If this can be done, researchers say that they hope to be able to implant and create an ear for a child when they are five to six-years-old and their ears have reached 80 percent of their adult size.
Using human cells, specifically those from the same patient, would reduce any possibility of rejection, Spector stated.
In the future however, the team hopes to reverse the process; by using the 3D scan so it creates a mirror image of a healthy ear, in order to replace a non-existing ear.
This truly amazing news makes you feel like we are, indeed, living in wonderful times.