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3D printer to treat congenital ear deformity

Credit: University of Wollongong

A world-first customised 3D bioprinter designed to create and make a 3D printed human ear has found its home at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Sydney.

This was made possible thanks to researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), which is based at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

As reported, the hospital took possession of the printer, which is a key milestone for a joint research project between ACES and RPA Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon Associate Professor Payal Mukherjee.

The Project

The research project was to develop the clinical 3D bioprinting solution to treat microtia, a congenital deformity where the external ear is underdeveloped.

Called the “3D Alek” printer, it is a customised multi-materials biofabrication 3D printer.

It utilises a specialised bio-ink developed and manufactured by the ACES researchers at the University and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF).

The specialised bio-ink assists in the regeneration of cartilage for use in reconstructive ear surgery.

This project illustrates the ability to manage a successful pipeline to turn fundamental research into a strategic application in order to create a new health solution to improve the lives of the people.

With one 3D Alek now established in a clinical environment at RPA and a replica found in their lab at TRICEP, the new 3D bioprinting initiative will be able to fast-track the next stages of research to deliver a practical solution to solve this clinical challenge.

Benefits of 3D bioprinting

Treatment of the microtia ear deformity is individualised to match the patient’s own anatomy.

It is particularly demanding because the outer ear is an extremely complex 3D shape, in length and breadth as well as in height and projection from the skull.

Bioprinting has become an extremely exciting avenue as it now allows an ear graft to be designed and customised to the patient’s own face using the patient’s own natural tissue.

This will reduce the operating time as well as improve cosmetic outcome.

Moreover, it will remove the current complication that requires a donor site for cartilage, which is usually from the rib cage of the patient.

Future Plans

The team will continue to advance research on this and will undertake clinical trials that are focused on accelerating the development of the specialised bio-ink by using stem cells from human tissue.

They are hoping that eventually it will be possible for them to print a living ear using a patient’s own stem cells.

The work of ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is focused on developing functional devices for application including batteries, solar cells and systems that interact with tissue.

Meanwhile, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is part of a network of hospitals within the Sydney Local Health District. It is the principal teaching hospital of the University of Sydney.

OpenGov Asia earlier reported on 3D printed steel tools that will reduce cost for aerospace and defence manufacturers.

The project highlights a market where additive tech can be applied because of its benefits over conventional manufacturing methods.


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