A young woman has become the first person in the world to receive a 3D-printed ear made of her own cells.
The 20-year-old, known only as Alexa from Mexico, was born with a rare birth defect that causes the outer part of the ear to be small and deformed.
Doctors hope the transplant will ‘revolutionize’ medicine by creating a treatment for people with microtia.
The rare congenital condition in which one or both outer ears are incompletely formed can also affect hearing.
Dr. Arturo Bonilla, a pediatric ear-reconstructive surgeon in San Antonio, performed the operation by removing half a gram of cartilage from Alexa’s microtia ear remnants and then sending it to 3DBio Therapeutics in Long Island City, Queens, along with a 3D scan. of her healthy ear.
‘Revolutionary’: A 20-year-old woman named Alexa has become the first person in the world to receive a 3D-printed ear made from her own cells. The picture on the left shows Alexa’s ear before the transplant, while on the right the results are 30 days after the operation
HOW TO CREATE A 3D PRINTED EAR?
The groundbreaking surgery is designed to be a treatment for people with microtia, a rare birth defect that causes the outer part of the ear to be small and deformed.
Doctors first remove half a gram of cartilage from a patient’s microtia ear residue.
This is then sent to 3DBio Therapeutics in Long Island City, Queens, along with a 3D scan of her healthy ear.
3DBio Therapeutics developed the implant, which is called AuriNovo.
Once at the company, the patient’s Chondrocytes – cells responsible for cartilage formation – are isolated from the tissue sample and cultured with nutrients to convert them into billions of cells.
These cells are mixed with collagen-based bio-inks, which are shaped into an outer ear after being inserted into a specialized 3D bio-printer.
The implant is surrounded by a printed, biodegradable shell, to provide early support, but which is later absorbed into the patient’s body.
The implanted ear is meant to mature over time and develop the natural look and feel, including elasticity, of a normal ear.
Once there, the woman’s Chondrocytes – cells responsible for cartilage formation – were isolated from the tissue sample and cultured with nutrients to convert them into billions of cells.
These cells are mixed with collagen-based bio-inks, which are shaped into an outer ear after being inserted into a specialized 3D bio-printer with a syringe.
The implant is surrounded by a printed, biodegradable shell, to provide early support, but which is absorbed into the patient’s body over time.
After a while, the implanted ear is supposed to mature and develop the natural look and feel, including elasticity, of a normal ear and be a mirror image of the patient’s healthy ear.
The whole printing process took less than 10 minutes.
“This is so exciting, sometimes I have to temper myself a little bit,” said Dr. Bonilla to the New York Times.
‘If everything goes as planned, this will revolutionize the way it is done.’
He added: ‘As a physician who has treated thousands of children with microtia from around the country and around the world, I am inspired by what this technology can mean for microtia patients and their families.’
AuriNovo, as the implant is called, was developed by the company 3DBio Therapeutics.
Dr. Bonilla said he hoped it would one day replace the current treatment for microtia, which involves either transplanting cartilage from a patient’s ribs or using synthetic materials, porous polyethylene (PPE), to reconstruct the outer ears.
He and his team said the surgery was performed as part of an early clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the implant.
The clinical trial is expected to include 11 patients and be performed in California and Texas.
Bonilla said: ‘The AuriNovo implant requires a less invasive surgical procedure than the use of rib cartilage for reconstruction.
“We also expect it to result in a more flexible ear than reconstruction with a PPE implant.”
AuriNovo, as the implant is called, was developed by the company 3DBio Therapeutics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, microtia occurs in about 1 in every 2,000-10,000 babies.
Factors that may increase the risk include diabetic mothers and a mother’s diet that is lower in carbohydrates and folic acid.
Boys are more likely to be affected than girls, with Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans more affected than non-Hispanic whites.
Looking forward, 3DBio wants to develop implants with more severe forms of microtia.
Researchers hope that 3D-printed implants can also be used for other conditions involving cartilage, including nose defects or injuries, breast reconstruction, damaged meniscus in the knee or cracks in the shoulders.
“Our initial indications focus on cartilage in the reconstructive and orthopedic areas, and then our pipeline builds on this progress to expand into neurosurgical and organ system areas,” says 3DBio on its website.
3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY MAKES OBJECTS BY DEPOSITING MATERIALS ONE LAYER AT A TIME
First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of manufacturing an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.
Just as an inkjet printer adds individual ink dots to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where necessary, based on a digital file.
Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting off excess materials to make a portion, and this can lead to waste of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kg) for each pound of useful material, according to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
In contrast, in some 3D printing processes, about 98 percent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastic and metal powder, where some experiment with chocolate and other foods. as biomaterials that resemble human cells.
3D printers have been used to make everything from limb prostheses to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:
Creating a 3D plan using computer aided design (CAD) software
· Preparation of the printer, including refilling of raw materials such as plastic, metal powder and binders.
· Start of the printing process via the machine that builds the object.
· 3D printing processes may vary, but material extrusion is the most common and it acts as a glue chair: the print material is heated until it becomes liquid and extruded through the printing die
· Using information from the digital file, the design is divided into two-dimensional cross-sections so that the printers know where to place the material
· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimeters (0.004 inches) thick.
· The polymer solidifies quickly and binds to the layer below before the building platform is lowered and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the whole process can take anywhere from minutes to days).
· After printing is complete, each object requires some finishing, ranging from removing the object from the construction platform to removing the support to removing excess powder.