3D printing might break some hearts of the old-fashioned, but it also saves hearts. In the biomedical world, the technique is being used for a variety of life-saving and life-improving purposes. New in the game is a project led by scientists at Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH). The have succeeded to produce very small ear implants with a memory function (wow, that’s handy!) or complex shapes, just like the ear’s cochlea.
The magic trick in this case is called Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM). This is a kind of 3D printing technique where a scientist uses laser to achieve its goals, and it’s a useful technique to print out metallic objects. However, 3D printing a car is one thing, but using additive manufacturing to improve someone’s body is surely the next level. Scientists are now using LAM to better help the hearing-impaired. Right now, when an implant is inserted into the minuscule cochlea there is still a risk of destroying important sensory cells. As you can imagine, a tiny mistake by a surgeon could lead to the reduction of a person’s hearing ability.
Another great usage of LAM technology has to something do with the manufacturing of temporary implants. Scientists also use the technique to create temporary implants, which are slowly decomposed by the human body. Because the shape of the implants can be matched to a person’s face, these implants are very useful to reconstruct defects of the facial skull. After the surgery is done, these implants will stabilize the tissue above and make room for new bone cells.
Recently we became highly impressed by a story about lab-grown ears and noses. Scientists at University College London (UCL) use inter alia, 3D printing techniques to create lab-grown ears and noses for, for instance, victims of traffic incidents. They use the human tissue of the victims for the implants. Dr Patrizia Ferretti, Head of Developmental Biology explains it to The Telegraph: “One of the main benefits is that, because they are the patient’s own cells, you don’t have to do any immune suppression which would not be desirable for a sick child.”
She adds: “At the moment we take cartilage out of the ribs which means a major additional surgical procedure that creates a permanent defect, as the rib cartilage does not regrow. But with this technique you could seed the stem cells onto a mould of a healthy ear, or use 3D printing to make the ear shaped scaffold-containing cells that can then be turned into cartilage. That would reduce the number of severe procedures hence be greatly advantageous for the child.”
Great usage, isn’t it? But back to LZH. Are you curious about the 3D printing ear implants project? Then you might want to come to Germany, as the scientists will present their exact findings at the Hannover Messe 2014 industry fair, which takes place from April 7 to 11.
Credits image: LZH.