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3D printing ears

3D printed ear. Image credit: 3DBIO Therapeutics

3D printing of tissues, bones and even (part of) organs is not a first. What is notable is the continuous progress being made in this area that is now maturing to let doctors recreate a missing (or damage part) of the body starting from that person’s cells.

3Dbio Therapeutics is a recently founded company, based in New York, US, specialising in creating bio-tissues by replicating a few cells into billions and then printing them in the desired shape and form.

Earlier in 2022 doctors took half a gram worth of cartilage and skin cells from a person born with a rare congenital disorder, called microtia, resulting in one ear that did not developed the external part. That little amount of cells were grown in a nutrient solution generating billion of them. These new cells were used as a “ink” by a 3D printer that got the instruction from a computer to print a ear that matched the normal one (a specular printing, of course). The digital model of the ear was created in software using the 3D scanning of the normal ear of the patient.

Once printed a surgeon removed the micro ear and implanted the new one. After a few months from the implant the ear is doing well, it has actually started to grow the inner cartilage and it is recognised by the body has its “own ear” since it is made with the body’s cells. No rejection issue with this procedure.

Of course a ear is not that complex, but still it is more articulated than skin tissue (that we have been able to 3D print for several years now). The path towards organ printing is open and it is just a question of when rather than if.

Think about the possibility of harvesting pancreatic cells and then print a brand new pancreas to replace one that has become cancerous, or a liver … By the end of this decade what seemed just 10 years ago science fiction might become a normal medical procedure.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.