Researchers from institutions across the world are working furiously to be the first to 3D print a functional human organ, capable of being transplanted into a patient. We’re not there yet, though we’re getting closer and closer every day. One of the more common types of tissue being worked on in labs is ear cartilage; just the other day scientists announced that they had successfully implanted 3D printed ear tissue into mice. While transplanting a functional 3D printed ear onto a human hasn’t been attempted yet, 3D printing still greatly helped a Croatian man who lost most of his ear to skin cancer.
The elderly patient was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer. It’s one of the slowest-spreading types of cancers, so thankfully it hadn’t spread past the man’s ear, but he did, unfortunately, have to have most of his ear removed. While the amputation wouldn’t affect his hearing, it would leave him obviously disfigured. Not long ago, the aesthetic damage from such a surgery would have been permanent, but thanks to a 3D printer and a skilled team of surgeons, this particular patient was able to have his ear restored.Researchers from the University of Rijeka designed and printed the ear in a biocompatible silicone material, which was carefully colored to match the patient’s skin tone. It was then attached, using a special adhesive, to the lower and upper parts of the man’s ear in a second surgery.
“After approximately one month when the cut grew over, we opted for this type of operation, which was carried out in a team…Under local anesthesia we installed the 3D-printed part to the missing area of the right ear,” said Dr. Dubravko Manestar, who carried out the operation at Rijeka’s Otorhinolaryngology Clinic. “The mould was made with accurate measurements and then a number of models were printed so the most similar to the existing part of the ear could be used.
“These type of operations are important in cancer patients, especially those who are elderly and are not able to undergo long-constructive surgery under anesthesia,” he added. This type of operation makes for an aesthetically acceptable solution, which is also important for the socialization of patients.”
While we don’t hear about Croatia in 3D printing news as often as some other countries, the East European country has been responsible for some major developments on the medical 3D printing front recently. Last year, the Neurosurgical Clinic in Rijeka made history by implanting an entirely acrylic, 3D printed vertebra into a patient suffering from spinal cancer, saving his life. It was the first time such a procedure had been successfully carried out.
While the successful ear surgery performed on the skin cancer patient may not have been as historical or lifesaving, it still made a huge difference in helping a man return quickly to normalcy after the loss of a body part. The 3D printer that restored his ear was purchased by the University of Rijeka as part of a research infrastructure project financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport. Discuss this amazing process in the 3D Printed Silicone Ear forum over at 3DPB.com.