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Woman Is First To Get 3D Printed Ear Made of Human Cells

Groundbreaking procedure will change the future of tissue engineering.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A 20-year-old woman is the first person to receive a 3D printed ear transplant made from her own cells, in news the company 3DBio Therapeutics is calling a "groundbreaking reconstructive procedure." "It's definitely a big deal," says Adam Feinberg, professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. "It shows this technology is not an 'if' anymore, but a 'when.'" Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Scientists Are (Understandably) Excited

Doctor studying virus bacteria in the lab

This trailblazing transplant opens the door for many other areas of research, experts predict. "This is so exciting, sometimes I have to temper myself a little bit," says San Antonio pediatric ear reconstructive surgeon Dr. Arturo Bonilla, who performed the surgery. "If everything goes as planned, this will revolutionize the way this is done."


3D Printing Will Transform Medical Care

Scientist examining bacterial culture plate in a microbiology research laboratory

3D printing will change the way people are treated for a variety of health conditions, experts predict. "It will allow patients to receive replacement tissues without additional surgeries and without having to harvest tissue from other sites, which has its own source of problems," says University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Dr. Robby Bowles.


What Is Microtia?

patient having hearing problems checked by doctor, early sign of parkinson's

The patient who received the ear transplant was born with a rare congenital ear deformity called microtia, which affects approximately 1,500 babies a year born in the US. "Microtia is a congenital condition that results in the deformation of the external ear. Microtia is relatively rare and occurs in 3 out of every 10,000 births. Treatment options have traditionally been a challenge for surgeons around the world," according to facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Hootan Zandifar, M.D., F.A.C.S.


Is 3D Tissue Printing Safe?


While 3D tissue printing is relatively new, it is generally considered safe. "We have no doubt that 3D printing in general, and bioprinting specifically, will advance rapidly in the coming years," say Dinusha Mendis, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law and Co-Director of the Jean Monet Centre of Excellence for European Intellectual Property and Information Rights, and Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University. "Policymakers should be paying closer attention to the field to ensure that its progress does not outstrip their capacity to safely and effectively regulate it. If they succeed, it could usher in a new era in medicine that could improve the lives of countless patients."


What's Next For 3D Tissue Printing?

Portrait of confident doctor in private clinic

Scientists are working on developing 3D-printed heart valves which allow the patient to form new tissue from their own cells, as with the ear transplant. "Our goal is to engineer bioinspired heart valves that support the formation of new functional tissue in patients," says Dr. Petra Mela, Professor of Medical Materials and Implants at the Technical University of Munich. "Children would especially benefit from such a solution, as current heart valves do not grow with the patient and therefore have to be replaced over the years in multiple surgeries. Our heart valves, in contrast, mimic the complexity of native heart valves and are designed to let a patient's own cells infiltrate the scaffold." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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