Scientists in the US have transplanted an artificial ear made from living tissue. The special feature: It comes from the 3D printer. It is probably the first successful transplantation of this kind. It could point the way for the future.
A girl is born with a deformity: a right ear that is small and misshapen. 20 years later, she gets a new ear, made from her own tissue, printed by a 3D printer. It is probably the first transplantation of such an implant from living tissue. And a novelty that could revolutionize medicine.
“It’s so exciting that sometimes I have to restrain myself a little,” Arturo Bonilla told the New York Times (NYT). He is the doctor who performed the surgery on the 20-year-old in Texas. His excitement is no accident. Because, he says, if everything goes as planned, it will revolutionize the way such operations are conducted. The transplant took place back in March as part of an initial clinical trial using 3D-printed living tissue implants. Eleven volunteers take part in the study.
Living tissue implant
For the new ear, a tiny clump of cells was taken from the woman’s “original” ear. This procedure reduces the risk that the implant will later be rejected by the body. According to the scientists, the new ear will continue to produce cartilage and will eventually not only look like a natural ear, but also feel like it. The implant was manufactured by a New York-based regenerative medicine company, 3DBio Therapeutics.
On Thursday, the company made the intervention public, but did not reveal any technical details and, according to “NYT”, invoked proprietary rights. This makes an external assessment of the operation difficult. However, once the study is complete, the data will be published in a medical journal. Until then, it remains to be seen whether unexpected complications will occur in one or more patients after the transplant.
However, the company says the technology used could eventually be used to implant other parts of the body, such as spinal discs or noses. Also used to create reconstructive tissue, such as after a lumpectomy, which is surgical removal of a tumor lump in the breast, taking the surrounding healthy tissue with it.
Printed future of medicine
Adam Feinberg, who is a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and technology at Carnegie Mellon University and not involved in the study, also spoke to the “NYT” about the transplant as a “big thing”. It shows that this technology is no longer about an “if”, but only about “when” it will be possible.
The ear from the printer is just one example of the advances currently being made in the field of transplantation. In January, for example, a genetically modified pig heart was transplanted into a 57-year-old. However, he died two months later. The company that provided the pig heart is also experimenting with 3D printing. In focus: the lungs.