This Cornell bioengineered ear is the best to date in appearing and acting like a natural ear, the researchers report. Also, the process of making the ears is fast -- it takes a week at most.
"This is such a win-win for both medicine and basic science, demonstrating what we can achieve when we work together," says the study's other lead author, Dr. Lawrence J. Bonassar, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University.
Scanning, Printing and Molding a Human Ear in a Week
The deformity that both Dr. Spector and Dr. Bonassar seek to remedy is microtia, a congenital deformity in which the external ear is not fully developed. Although the causes for this disorder are not entirely understood, research has found that microtia can occur in children whose mothers took an acne medication during pregnancy. Typically, only a single ear is affected.
The incidence of microtia varies from almost one to more than four per 10,000 births each year. Many children born with microtia have an intact inner ear, but experience hearing loss due to the missing external ear structure, which acts to capture and conduct sound.
Dr. Spector and Dr. Bonassar have been collaborating on bioengineered human replacement parts since 2007, and Dr. Bonassar has also been working with other Weill Cornell physicians. For example, he and Weill Cornell's neurological surgeon Dr. Roger Hrtl are currently testing bioengineered disc replacements using some of the same techniques demonstrated in this current study.
The researchers specifically work to develop replacements for human structures that are primarily made of cartilage -- joints, trachea, spine, nose -- because cartilage does not need to be vascularized with a blood supply in order to survive.
To make the ears, Dr. Bonassar and
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Weill Cornell Medical College