The other day we told you about people using 3D printers to create various gun parts, and even though that might be a highly questionable use of 3D printing technology that doesn't mean that it isn't being used for some pretty incredible purposes. Take for example, the researchers who have created a bio-engineered human ear with the help of 3D printing technology.
As big believer in the changes that 3D printing will bring to our society, I am always on the look-out for new, and interesting, ways that the technology is being used to change our lives and this news that Cornell University researchers have recently used 3D printing as part of the process to create a bio-engineered human ear definitely fits that bill.
In today's medical world, the creation of prosthetics like the human ear involves things like radiation from CT scans to measure ear anatomy and then messy molds. Now the researchers have bypassed that method by using a 3D camera that rotates around a person's head in order to create a picture of the existing ear to match.
Then that data is sent directly to the computer which then uses a 3D printer to create a soft mold of the ear. Once the mold is ready it is injected with a special collagen gel that's chock full of cow cells which will produce cartilage, thereby, creating a scaffolding. Over the next few weeks the collagen is replaced totally by cartilage, and by the end of three months you have a flexible and usable outer ear.
In the future, researchers say that they are hoping that they will be able to use the patient's own cells in the 3D printing process. It should be noted, however, that cartilage is one of the easiest body parts to generate with a 3D printer since it doesn't need blood vessels inside of it in order to survive. The real challenge for researchers is graduating up to trying to bio-engineer more complex tissues and organs.
You can read about the Cornell University researchers results at PLOS One.
via Popular Science