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A young woman has received a 3D printed ear implant made from her own cells, in a scientific development that could “revolutionise” medicine.
The 20-year-old, who was born with a deformity that left her right ear small and misshapen, had the reconstructive surgery in March in the US – part of the first clinical trial to use 3D printing to construct an implant made of living tissue.
“This is so exciting, sometimes I have to temper myself a little bit,” Dr Arturo Bonilla, who performed the surgery in Texas, told the New York Times. “If everything goes as planned, this will revolutionise the way this is done.”
The implant was produced by 3DBio Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company based in New York, which announced the successful procedure on Thursday. The results are set to be published in a medical journal when an ongoing trial, which includes 11 volunteers, is complete.
The new ear was made from a tiny clump of cells taken from the woman’s right ear, which experts say will reduce the chance that the implant will be rejected from the body. It will continue to regenerate cartilage, meaning it will eventually feel and look like a natural ear.
It is thought to be the first time that a 3D printed implant made of living tissues has been transplanted.
The company said that, with more research, the same technology could be used for replacement spinal discs, noses and knee menisci – as well as reconstructive tissue for lumpectomies.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” said Adam Feinberg, a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not involved in the trial. “It shows this technology is not an ‘if’ anymore, but a ‘when’.”
The woman, who is from Mexico, had a rare birth defect called microtia. Currently, surgery to reconstruct the misshapen ears of those suffering from the disease – which affects around 80 babies a year in the UK and 1,500 in the US – involves taking cartilage from a patient’s ribs, which is then carved into the rough shape of an ear.
“I’ve always felt the whole microtia world has been waiting for a technology where we wouldn’t have to go into the chest, and patients would heal from one day to the next,” Dr Bonilla told the New York Times.
The scientific advancement is the latest in a series of recent breakthroughs in organ and tissue transplants.
In January, surgeons transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a 57-year-old, which lengthened his life by two months. This week, Swiss doctors said a patient who was given a human liver that had been preserved for three days remained health a year later.