Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your 3D-manufactured ears: Cornell bioengineers and Weill Cornell Medical College doctors have created a realistic-looking artificial ear using 3D printing and injectable gels made of living cells. First, a custom 3D ear mold is printed. Next, collagen is injected into it. Cartilage then grows to replace the collagen. “It takes half a day to design the mold, a day 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 implantation,” says Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering.
Traditional replacement ears are made of materials with Styrofoam consistency or harvested rib — painful and not particularly natural looking. The new design could be used to reconstruct more realistic ears for children born with deformities and adults that have lost ears to cancer or accident.
Replacement human structures made of cartilage (joints, trachea, spine, nose) are resilient because cartilage does not need to be vascularized with a blood supply to survive. Researchers believe this new ear could be used for implantation in as little as three years. For more information, visit PLOSOne.org.