The world’s first 3D printed functional ear is about to make history at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. Researchers have been constantly working to create a 3D printed functional and implantable ear. The first 3Dprinted ear will be received by Maia who was born with Microtia and has only one functional ear. The current 3D printed focuses on Maia and the aim is to develop a standard 3D printing procedure for implantable ears in the next two or three years.
Microtia, which is also known as the little ear condition, people with such condition are able to listen to some extent but in Maia’s case she cannot hear at all. Currently the 2 year old wears a headband that helps transmit sound to her brain using the skull as her bone conductor. Maia’s mother says, “The condition means there is no left ear and there is no ear canal, so what that means is that it's a conductive hearing loss”. As Maia is too young to understand all this it will we soon that she will find herself different from other kids.
The project is part of local government’s Advance Queensland initiative and has as of now raised enough funds for developing its custom cartilage tissue implants. The QUT Associate Professor and team leader Mia Woofruff says they have already gathered $1,25,000 AUD from the state government and the private funders. In order to create anatomically correct ears using the patient’s cartilage cells the team has hired PhD researchers Maureen Ross to work on the project. The team is also planning to raise another $50,000 AUD through crowdfunding later this year to help in the research process.
The project consists of two significant stages: The initial stage is the simplest that is a short term cosmetic solution. It can be realized with the 3D printed ear made out of medical-grade silicone that is attached magnetically with the help of glue. In future the step could be realized in hours and would be an aid to patients that have malformed ears or damaged ears. The second stage is the long term stage as it is more determined one and revolves around a complex bioengineering solution. The objective here is to develop a standard procedure for growing a 3D ear with the help of patient’s own cell using a special bioreactor. Later when the ear is fully grown the living, breathing ear construct could then be surgically implanted to the patient. As fast the hearing aid is concerned there will be a custom bionic construction. The research team will collaborate further with a bionic specialist. And if they succeed the entire process could cost as less as $200 per child and another year three to come in practice fully.
According to professor Woodruff, both steps are revolutionary. “Nobody's ever 3D-printed ear prosthetics before in the world,” she told ABC, adding that 3D scanning data opened up a wide range of possibilities. “We can feed that information into a custom-built 3D printer and we can print that ear on the spot. I think the ability to 3D print an ear prosthetic will cost the public less than a pair of glasses,” she says.
Australian charity Hear and Say that helps children suffering from hearing loss and ear malformations is also involved in the project. The charity’s executive director Dimity Dornan added, “It will be a world first, absolutely unheard of. Up until now, nobody's been able to crack the cosmetic effect which is so important to parents.” Leeanne Enoch, the state government’s Innovation and Science Minister, further argued that this innovation will prove to be an inspiration for a lot more research. “This particular research opens the door to incredible research in the medical field right across the world,” she said.
The project is still in process but the 2 year old Maia’s mother Chloe Mulligan is convinced that there will be a dramatic change in her daughter’s life. The mother says, “I thought it was light years away in terms of this technology. It's not just about the hearing loss, it is about being socially accepted in society. For us the day she comes to us and actually says, ‘Where's my ear’, it's obviously going to be heartbreaking. But now we can say, ‘You will have an ear’.” With all the advancements in the 3Dpruntng technology there are humongous possibilities of saving several lives further.
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