Artificial Human Ear Printed from Sheep Cells

An artificial ear has been created using 3D printed animal tissues.

Research into growing replacement tissues has made a major leap forward with the announcement that life-like artificial human ears have been 3D printed from cow and sheep tissue.

In an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Dr. Thomas Cervantes and his colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital have debuted their method for growing a human ear from animal tissue.

According to the paper, the process for creating their artificial ear involved designing a 3D printed mold to house the organic materials. Beyond its bovine collagens and ovine ear cartilage cells, the mold also contained a titanium wire that guided the chimeric solution into forming something roughly ear-shaped.

Once fully grown, the artificial ear, complete with titanium frame, maintained the flexibility associated with a human counterpart – but simply growing a human ear is only half the battle: it would need to be attached to a human patient, without rejection, for the promise to be a success. Due to a critical shortage of people willing to have their ears cut off in the name of science, the doctors attached the ear under the skin of lab rats. Remarkably, after twelve weeks, none of the ears had been rejected.

In the coming years, the technology developed at Massachusetts General will likely move from animal to human trials and maybe even further. “This research is a significant step forward in preparing the tissue-engineered ear for human clinical trials”, said Dr. Cervantes. In fact, the doctor is so confident in his new technique he believes that patients could begin receiving these types of implants in about 5 years. 

While the state of the art for today’s tissue engineers is cosmetic replacements, in the future 3D printers and stem cells may combine to create fully functional replacement organs.

Images Courtesy of BBC