3D Scanning Improves Ear Implant Production and Outcomes
Kyle Maxey posted on August 15, 2016 |
3D scanning and printing technologies are making a huge impact on ear implant therapy.

At the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Scotland, 3D scanning is being used to create detailed external ear implants for children with microtia.

Although it’s not life threatening, microtia, a condition in which the external ear is misshapen, can have psychological effects on children. In an effort to improve the quality of life of his patients, Dr. Ken Stewart has started to use an Artec Spider 3D scanner to scan a patient’s properly formed ear and use it as a template for an external ear implant.

In the past, the process for creating an external ear prosthetic was imprecise and often led to less than optimal results.

According to Dr. Stewart, the first step in designing an implant was to use an acetate sheet to make a 2D tracing of the normal ear. With this tracing in hand, surgeons would then translate that 2D drawing to a hand-carved 3D implant that was little more than an approximation.

However, with 3D scanning technology, doctors have found that detailed 3D models can be copied directly from a patient’s body, making it possible to build extremely precise implants.

But beyond digital models, 3D scanning also makes it possible for doctors to 3D print accurate models that can replace those 2D drawing from the past. With a 3D-printed copy of a patient’s ear, surgeons working in an operating room can deftly create nearly identical ear implants.

Though doctors and surgeons are still taking a craftsman-like approach to building implants, physicians like Stewart see a very bright future for implant design thanks to 3D scanning and printing technology. To wit, in a collaboration with the Edinburgh University’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine and School of Chemistry, Stewart has been looking at ways to incorporate stem cell bio-printing into implant production. In this scheme, a 3D scan and print would act as a template upon which stem cells could be coaxed into forming a new ear. That new ear would then become the implant, and the surgeon’s approach to hand carving an ear would no longer be needed.

If 3D scanning, bio printing and stem cells could be combined into one production package, microtia patients, as well as thousands of other people suffering from burns, scarring and other conditions, might have the chance to receive genetically identical and anatomically accurate implants.

Not only would that be a medical miracle, it would be proof that 3D scanning and printing technology are truly making a huge impact on our society as a whole. 

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