An artificial - and very lifelike - ear has been built by scientists using a 3D printer and cartilage from sheep.
The ears were built by Thomas Cervantes, from Massachusetts General Hospital, and his colleagues. A 3D digital model of the organ was created and designed with help from a facial plastic surgeon to make sure the shape and proportions were correct allowing the design to look as lifelike as possible.
The resulting model was printed and cast in polydimethylsiloxane, a special silicone compound, to create a mould which was then split along the outer contour, resulting in two pieces. These cells were implanted under the skin of lab rats.
Researchers from Massachusetts then grew the required number of cartilage cells to fit custom models under the skin of lab rats to replace the cow collagen used in the moulds.. Wire was added to the moulds to give the implants their shape and make them bend and flex like human ears.
The researchers said that the modelled ear had enough definition in the curves and lines to be recognisable even once a layer of skin had been applied to it.
Scientists are now preparing the ear for clinical trials in the hope they could be used in transplant operations. As the technology is customisable, the scientists claim they could eventually use the process to produce realistic looking ears for individual patients on a ‘rapid timescale.’
The findings feature in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.