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Clinical nurse specialist Kerr Clapperton using Artec Spider to scan Ellie’s ear in Artec Studio

Undergoing even a routine medical procedure can be unnerving, no matter your age. But for children, whose understanding of rules and confidence in strangers is just developing, it can be even more terrifying. When a child is born with a condition that requires medical attention, they may become accustomed to the fear, but many medical providers are looking for ways in which that fear itself can be largely eliminated from the interaction.

ear3-970x647-cDoctors in the UK are using 3D scanning technology to help children born with a congenital condition called Microtia in which the external ear is underdeveloped or undeveloped at birth; we have already seen a few cases where 3D technologies are brought into play for these children. The condition can affect one or both ears and is present in approximately one in every six to ten thousand births. Often, the children have hearing loss caused by the inability of sound to penetrate efficiently into the inner ear. Tests conducted as early as two weeks after the child is born can begin to determine the extent of the hearing loss and ongoing medical treatment results in frequent interactions with doctors and, previously, one of the more frightening aspects for the children was subjection to MRI treatments to build models for ear implants.

Now, using a handheld Artec Spider 3D scanner, the doctor can record the geometry of the child’s normal ear and use that to create a highly accurate model. No fear, no fuss. This technique was pioneered by Dr. Ken Stewart of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Scotland who recently used it to help a young girl named Ellie, and explained the process in an interview with Digital Trends:

“Most patients are born with one ear missing or a loose part of one ear. Traditionally we would use a clear acetate to take a 2D tracing of the normal ear. This would be used as a template to help carve an appropriately sized and shaped opposite ear. The 3D scanner and mirror image software allows us to produce a more accurate template.”

ear1-970x647-cThat template is used to create a 3D printed model that the surgeons can utilize to craft a highly accurate implant specific to each patient. The dream is that one day, 3D printing will be able to work with human tissue and the ear can be printed directly, but the technology is not quite ready for that…yet. Dr. Stewart is working with a team of scientists from the Center for Regenerative Medicine and in the Chemistry Department at Edinburgh University to work towards bringing that vision into reality. He described the progress made thus far:

ear5-970x647-cProfessor Bruno Peault and his team have characterized stem cells within human fat which lie next to blood vessels. We can harvest these very easily by liposuction. For a plastic surgeon that is easier than taking blood. With Professor Mark Bradley’s team in the chemistry department we have identified FDA approved polymers to which the stem cells will bind and be driven to produce cartilage. We know we can 3D print in the polymers concerned. So the Artec-derived 3D scans could potentially be mirrored and 3D printed with the ideal polymer.”

Anything that can not only ease a child’s fear but potentially create a solution to a medical problem is clearly a game changer. It’s becoming increasingly clear that 3D printing is changing the face of medicine in a number of different ways and when you think about how new the technology is, it gives a great deal of hope for its possibilities to continue to change medicine for the better. Discuss further over in the Artec 3D Scanner Used at Royal Hospital forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Artec]ear2-970x647-c

 

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