NEW YORK (Feb. 20, 2013) -- Physicians at Weill Cornell Medical College and biomedical engineers at Cornell University have succeeded in building a facsimile of a living human ear that looks and acts like a natural ear. Researchers believe their bioengineering method will finally succeed in the long quest by scientists and physicians to provide normal looking "new" ears to thousands of children born with a congenital ear deformity.
In their PLOS ONE study, the researchers demonstrate how 3D printing and new injectable gels made of living cells can be used to fashion ears that are identical to a human ear. Over a three-month period -- the length of the study -- these flexible ears steadily grew cartilage to replace the collagen that was used to help mold them.
"I believe this will be the novel solution reconstructive surgeons have long wished for to help children born with absence or severe deformity of the ear," says the study's co-lead author, Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery (LBMS) and associate professor of surgery of plastic surgery in the Department of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University. "A bioengineered ear replacement like this would also help individuals who have lost part or all of their external ear in an accident or from cancer."
Currently, replacement ears are constructed using materials that have a Styrofoam-like consistency or, sometimes, surgeons will build ears from rib that is harvested from a young patient. "This surgical option is very challenging and painful for children, and the ears rarely look totally natural or perform well," says Dr. Spector, who is also a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "All other attempts to 'grow' ears in the lab -- including one 1997 study widely publici
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Weill Cornell Medical College