3D-printed ear with living human cell tissue implanted in woman

Alexa will finally be able to make a ponytail or tie her hair up in a bun without complexes. This 20-year-old Mexican resident of San Antonio (Texas) is the first human being in the world to receive a 3D-printed ear implant made from human cells, the living tissue of Alexa herself. “I think my self-esteem is going to rise”, she has declared to The New York Times, the newspaper that today has advanced this information.

The young woman suffers from a rare congenital malformation called 'microtia' (etymologically, 'small ear'). This condition affects one in every 5,000 or 7,000 births, according to data from the Spanish Microtia Association. It usually affects only one ear – in Alexa's case, the right one – and is more common in boys than in girls. In both cases, it is usually a reason for ridicule in the schoolyard; something that Alexa began to suffer in adolescence: "Some people were not considered and that began to bother me."

The ear has been manufactured by 3DBio Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company located in New York. The operation that Alexa has undergone is part of a clinical trial with more volunteers to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the implant, whose trade name is AuriNovo™.

Until now, patients with microtia who wanted to undergo a graft had two options: either an artificial prosthesis or one made with cartilage taken from their own ribs, which meant greater discomfort and a longer hospital stay. This 3D implant requires a less invasive surgical procedure than the use of cartilage.

Half a gram of cells

In Alexa's case, using a biopsy-like procedure, doctors took samples of her cartilage cells (so-called 'chondrocytes') from her malformed ear. Specifically, half a gram of tissue. Those cells were then cultured with nutrients in the laboratory to stimulate their proliferation. They were then mixed with a collagen-based biological ink, "like chocolate chips mixed with cookie ice cream," Nathaniel Bachrach, scientific director of 3DBio, told The New York Times.

A kind of high-precision piping bag

This collagen with cartilage cells was later injected into the 3D printer, which in just 10 minutes was responsible for producing, as if it were a high-precision pastry bag, a symmetrical replica of the shape of Alexa's healthy ear. The printed structure was shipped in a special container to San Antonio, Texas. There she was grafted by Dr. Arturo Bonilla, one of the leading pediatric surgeons specializing in microtia and founder of the Institute of Congenital Hearing Deformities.

The graft does not consist of 'sewing' the ear, since it is a cartilaginous tissue; instead, it is inserted into the required area under the skin. When that skin is taut, it molds to the printed shape, showing the appearance of a natural ear.

"This is a truly historic moment for microtia patients and, more broadly, for the field of regenerative medicine, as we are beginning to demonstrate the real-world application of next-generation tissue engineering technology." in a press release Dr. Daniel Cohen, CEO and co-founder of 3DBi.

On the way, they say from this company, there are many other applications that will serve to reconstruct nasal injuries and malformations or to treat spinal problems. The price of the treatment has not been provided by the company.

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