3D printing use has been expanding in recent years. From art to science, this growing industrial revolution aided in making many new developments, including two ones that may have helped the medical industry.
Reconstructed ears from a 3D printer
Ear reconstruction is one of the hardest surgeries to do. The problem is making the ear. You can thank the ear cartilage's uniqueness for that. It needs to be soft and flexible, but still have strength and form. Any replacements done often look unnatural and do not provide a good redirection of sound to the eardrum. Scientists have been exploring ways to better provide children born with congenital deformity microtia or people who suffered some type of ear loss with real, quality ears.
A team at Cornell University may have found just that. Professor Lawrence Bonassar and his colleagues found a way to make ears more lifelike. He began his research with his 5-year-old twin daughters.
They first scanned the girls' ears to create a digital mold. A 3D printer then printed it. A gel made of living cells was injected into the mold. The ears were finally removed and some trimming took place.
The quickness itself may be one of the best parts of this process. It takes less than 48 hours to fully complete the ear. The molding, half a day, and the printing, a full day, are the culprits behind the time. Either way the 2 days is a far better time than traditional practices where rib cartilage is used to make fake ears. The traditional way also does not create a custom ear for the individual which many have commented on.
Surgeons' main worry is whether the body will accept the new part. A rejection could cause an internal battle inside the recipient and another surgery will need to be scheduled. No one wants that. With the 3d printer being added into the equation, the research team at Cornell can now focus on growing human ear cartilage cells. They have custom molds so there is no need to remove any other rib cartilage from the patient or use some type of foam. If the cells can be made similar to the body's previous ones, then it will a rejection of the ear will be less likely.
This is a great advance in science but do not expect real-looking fake ears any time soon. The Cornell group needs to do some experimentation and if all goes well, we could see a release in 3 years.
A more important organ is printed
Your heart has one of the hardest jobs in your body; it beats all-day, every day. Any sort of stoppage will result total body shutdown. Electrical current provides the stimulation the heart needs to contract. If there is any type of irreparable damage to the heart and it stops, doctors will replace it with an artificial one. A new 'artificial heart' has been recently designed and printed.
OK the print isn't really a heart for a human. It's more or a robotic heart. Artists and designers can use the heart, a biologically-driven actuator, to simulate a pulse in an inanimate object.
Peter Walters and his colleagues from the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK invented the device. They used the photo-polymer jetting technique developed by Stratasys. Walters added yeast to provide the electricity needed to cause the beat. Maybe a real artificial heart could be printed one of these days.
A brave new world
Hopefully other professors or people in general will be inspired by the two creations. Either you can look at the medical side and try to emulate current procedures or you can look at it from a new use of the printer. Let's try to make as many 3D printing achievements as we can in the upcoming years to make the world a better place.