Cornell Professor Develops Technique for 3D Printing a Human Ear
Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University, has been working to solve this problem by developing a “living ink” that can be used to 3D print the cartilage for a human ear. His research was published in the journal PLoS One and featured on NPR.
“The ear is really remarkable from a mechanical perspective,” says Lawrence Bonassar, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University who has been working with a group to develop a better replacement ear.
To make the ear, Bonassar and his colleagues scanned the ears of his twin daughters, who were 5 at the time. They used a 3-D printer to build a plastic mold based on the scan. Those printers, similar to a home inkjet, lately have also been adapted to experiment with making chocolate, guns, and even kidneys.
They then injected a soup of collagen, living cartilage cells, and culture medium. The soup congeals “like Jell-O,” Bonassar tells Shots. “All this happens quickly. You inject the mold, and in 15 minutes you have an ear ready to go.”
Well, not exactly. What they have is an ear-shaped chunk of cells that would have to be tucked under the skin on the side of the head by a plastic surgeon before it could become an ear.
To test whether their ear-mold would become living, useful ear cartilage, the researchers implanted samples under the skin on the back of laboratory rats. In three months, cartilage cells took over the collagen, making for a solid-yet-flexible chunk of cartilage that retained its precise shape and size.
Bonassar thinks this technology can be used in humans in 5 years, with any luck.
Below is a video featuring this amazing research.