A surgeon performs a transplant of an ear implant printed from human cells: a first

Eva Deschamps / June 3, 2022

A U.S. medical team announced Thursday that it has for the first time transplanted a human ear implant created from the cells of the patient being treated and using a 3D printer, a procedure that should be able to help people with a rare birth defect.
 
The operation was performed as part of a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of such an implant for people with microtia, whose outer ear has not developed properly. AuriNovo, the name of the implant, was developed by the company 3DBio Therapeutics, and the operation was performed by Arturo Bonilla, founder of an institute specializing in the treatment of this malformation in San Antonio, Texas.
 
As a physician who has treated thousands of children with microtia across the country and around the world, I am excited about this technology and what it could mean for patients and their families, the surgeon said, as quoted in a company release.
 
The procedure is performed by creating a 3D impression of the patient's fully developed other ear and then collecting cartilage cells from his or her ear. These are then cultured to a sufficient quantity and mixed with a collagen hydrogel. This mixture is used to print the implant.
 
The implant is surrounded by a printed, biodegradable shell to support it, which is absorbed by the patient's body over time. The transplanted ear is expected to develop the look and feel of a natural ear over time, including its elasticity. The clinical trial is to include a total of 11 patients, in California and Texas.
 
Dr. Bonilla said he hopes the implant will someday replace existing treatments, which involve creating a prosthesis from the removal of cartilage from a rib, or from a substance called porous polyethylene. The former is a cumbersome procedure, and the implant using porous polyethylene is less flexible than the one tested today, he explained.
 
Microtia affects about 1,500 babies in the United States each year, according to the company. If they have no other health problems, these children can live quite normally. But some may have a hard time dealing with the way others look at this deformity.
 
Factors that may increase the risk of microtia include maternal diabetes and a maternal diet low in carbohydrates and folic acid. In the future, 3DBio hopes to develop implants for more severe forms of microtia. 3D printed implants could also be used for other conditions involving cartilage, including defects or injuries to the nose, breast reconstructions or a damaged meniscus in the knee.
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