The patient, who is from Mexico, was born with microthia, a rare congenital defect that makes the oracle or the outer part of the ear small and contorted (it can also affect ear hearing). With further research, company officials said the technology could be used to create other parts of the body, including spinal discs, nasal, knee meniscus, rotator cuff and reconstructive tissues for lumpectomies. Going forward, they said, 3-D printing could also produce more complex vital organs such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas.
“It’s so exciting, sometimes I have to make myself a little angry,” said Dr. Arturo Bonilla, a pediatric ear reconstruction surgeon in San Antonio who performed the woman’s implant surgery. The trial was funded by 3DBio Therapeutics, but Dr. Bonilla has no financial stake in the company. “If everything goes according to plan, this will revolutionize the way things are done,” he said.
James Etridis, head of the Spine Bioengineering Laboratory at the Icon School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, said other 3-D printed tissue implants were in the pipeline, but was unaware that any other products had been tested in clinical trials.
“The 3-D ear implant is then a testament to the concept of evaluating biocompatibility in survivors and matching shape and maintaining shape,” said Dr. Eatridis said.
However, the outer part of the ear is a relatively simple appendage that is more cosmetic than functional, Drs. Feinberg of Carnegie Mellon. He warned that the road to solid organs – such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs – was still a long way off. “Going from ear to spinal disc is a very big leap, but it’s more realistic if you have ears,” he said.
The 3-D printing production process creates a solid, three-dimensional object from a digital model. The technology typically involves computer-controlled printers that store material in thin layers to create a precise shape of the object.