'Tiny ears': 3-D Printed ears solution to rare disorder


In Summary

• The CDC says that microtia occurs in four different forms.

• It ranges from type 1 to 4.

Before and after sugery of a microtia patient
Before and after sugery of a microtia patient

When children are born, they do not know they are different from anyone else.

As the world celebrates Microtia Awareness Day, scientists are on their toes to counter rare disorders affecting humans.

According to the CDC, Microtia happens when the external ear is smaller than a normal ear which makes it not form properly and can result in deafness.

With bio printing, like other forms of 3D printing, a printed form of the same organ can be printed.

The only difference is that a live tissue is used as a material.

A game changing technology, invented in the 80s, but had the first organ printed in 2013.

Before surgery( left) and after reconstructing the 3D Ear (right)
Before surgery( left) and after reconstructing the 3D Ear (right)
Image: courtesy: CG Trader

This was done by researchers in China at State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy and Cancer Centre who successfully 3D printed structures within living tissues.

This technology means they can print organs without needing to surgically implant them or perform other invasive procedures.

So, is this the answer to people who have suffered societal judgement due to missing organs?

As the world celebrates world microtia awareness day today, could this technology be used for scar healing to the millions of people dealing with such deformity that results to people having small ears, which some people term witchcraft or punishment by the supreme.

There is no understanding as to why microtia occurs but it happens, but according to the CDC, it happens during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Those born with it may suffer hearing loss, facial challenges and stigmatization arising from the societal judgment.

Affecting how the external parts of the ears look, microtia does not affect the inner ears however, some babies can have a missing or a narrow ear canal that can lead to deafness.

The CDC says that microtia occurs in four different forms.

Ranging from type 1 to 4. Type 1 is the mildest form, where the ear retains its normal shape, but it is smaller than usual.

Type 4 is the most severe. Here all the external structures of the ears are missing, and the ear canal may be blocked (anotia).

However it is more common, for babies to have only one affected ear.

An expensive component that can look like a normal ear can be created using a 3D scanner printer and a software called Siemens.

Starting from $200, the machines create what looks like the cartilage.

A cartilage is the the main type of connective tissue in the body which provides a framework for bone structure to develop.

 They then inject cell containing bio ink into the injured tissue, shinning patterns of light that activate the cells in the bio ink through this process of facial reconstruction, according to researchers of the Massachusetts General hospital in Boston.

The ear, has flexibility of a real ear. Early this year, a 10-year old girl from Wales received a new 3D printed ear made of human cartilage

a prosthetic ear
a prosthetic ear
Image: courtesy: pinterest

In Kenya, 3D printing is also growing with small-scale companies like Fab Lab, which came about through the University of Nairobi Science and technology park.

Fab lab was the first to bring a 3D printer into Kenya and since then they have revolutionised the technology.

Kijenzi 3D is also another company transforming the medical industry in Kenya by printing face shields, ear savers and contactless door handles.

Kenya is yet to print organ prototypes, since the bio machines are very expensive, going between Sh1.1 million to Sh22.3 million.