Cornell 3D prints human ear

A team of Cornell University researchers is taking 3D printing to a whole new level, with a human ear printed using a 3D printer and injections of living cells. Scientists hope 3D printing will one day allow doctors to grow all sorts of customised body parts.

While it does sounds like something straight out of a B-movie, the technology involved in creating artificial body parts is slowly developing, although there is a long way to go, the HuffPo reports. The ear was grown with cartilage from a cow, which is easier to obtain than human cartilage, unless you use your own.

Study co-author Dr. Jason Spector of Weill Cornell Medical Center is already working on the next step and trying to work out how to cultivate enough of a child’s remaining ear cartilage in the lab to grow an entirely new ear, without the cow parts.

The actual task of scanning the ear is a bit more straightforward. The team used a 3D camera that rapidly rotates around a child’s head to come up with a 3D model. There is no need for radiation or CT scans. From the model, the 3D printer produces a soft mold of the ear, which is then injected with a special collagen gel that is full of cow cells that produce cartilage. Over the course of a few weeks, cartilage grows to replace the collagen and at three months a flexible and workable outer ear is created.

The team believes the process could be even faster if living cells could be used as the printer ink. The next step is to use a patient’s own cells in the 3D printing process.