A 20-year-old woman, known only as Alexa, was born with a rare congenital disability that causes the outer part of the ear to be small and distorted; she has now had an ear transplant made of a 3D printed ear constructed from her cells.
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 Texas, performed the surgery. Dr. Bonilla removed half of a gram of cartilage from Alexa’s microtia ear and then sent it to 3DBio Therapeutics in Long Island City, Queens, and a 3D scan of her healthy ear.
At the lab, Alexa’s chondrocytes, the cells related to cartilage, were isolated and grown with nutrients to replicate them into billions of cells.
Those cells were then mixed with collagen-based bio-ink and shaped into an outer ear after being inserted into a specialized 3D bio-printer.
A biodegradable shell surrounds the new implant to provide early support. Over time, the shell is absorbed into the patient’s body, leaving behind a healthy, growing ear.
After a while, the implanted ear is supposed to mature, developing the natural look and feel, including elasticity, of a regular ear and be a mirror replica of the patient’s healthy ear.