Source: Agence France-Presse

Researchers have engineered artificial human ears that look and act like the real thing thanks to 3D printing, giving hope to patients missing all or part of their ears, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

The new ears, practically identical to human ones, could provide the solution long sought by reconstructive surgeons to treat thousands of children born with the congenital deformity microtia, along with those who suffered ear loss to cancer or in an accident, AFP says.   

In a study published by PLOS ONE, Cornell biomedical engineers and Weill Cornell Medical College physicians said the flexible ears grew cartilage over three months to replace the collagen used to mold them.

The Cornell engineers and physicians first constructed the ears with a digitized 3D image of a person’s ear that served to build a mold of a solid ear using a 3D printer. A high-density, injectable gel made of living cells helped fill the mold. Once the mold was removed, cartilage was grown on the collagen.

The research team praised the speed of the process, noting it takes half a day to build the mold, about a day to print it, 30 minutes to inject the gel and the ear can be removed just 15 minutes later.

Weill Cornell associate professor Jason Spector predicts that researchers could try the first human implant of a Cornell bioengineered ear in as little as three years.