Researchers Successfully Transplanted a 3-D Printed Ear Made up of Human Cells | “Truly Historic Moment”

Researchers Successfully Transplanted a 3-D Printed Ear Made up of Human Cells | “Truly Historic Moment”

Doctors believe that this gives hope for further prospects of using 3D printing in organ transplants.

Doctors implanted a 3-D printed ear composed of human cells on a 20-year-old woman in a "groundbreaking" procedure.

In a clinical trial led by 3DBio Therapeutics, a clinical-stage regenerative medicine startup, and the Microtia-Congenital Ear Deformity Institute, the transplant—the first clinical trial of successful medical use of this technique—was described as a spectacular achievement in the field of tissue engineering by independent specialists, per PEOPLE



The woman from Mexico who received the implant was born with a "small and misshapen right ear," per The New York Times. She was born with microtia, an uncommon birth abnormality in which the auricle, or outer portion of the ear, is tiny and deformed. The replacement ear was printed in the exact form of the woman's left ear. It was implanted in March and will continue to develop cartilage tissue to mimic the appearance and feel of a normal ear. 

Adam Feinberg, a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said, "It’s definitely a big deal." He added, "It shows this technology is not an ‘if’ anymore, but a ‘when.' " Dr. Feinberg is also a co-founder of FluidForm, a regenerative medicine startup that also employs 3-D printing and is not linked with 3DBio.



A team led by Arturo Bonilla, M.D., a top pediatric ear reconstructive surgeon specializing in the deformity and the founder and director of the Microtia-Congenital Ear Deformity Institute in San Antonio, Texas, carried out the implant procedure.

The implant was announced in a press release in which Dr. Bonilla said, "We believe that the microtia clinical trial can provide us not only with robust evidence about the value of this innovative product and the positive impact it can have for microtia patients, but also demonstrate the potential for the technology to provide living tissue implants in other therapeutic areas in the future."

The 3-D printing manufacturing method turns a computer model into a physical, three-dimensional product. A computer-controlled printer deposits material in thin layers to generate the precise shape of the object in most cases.



The clinical experiment, which involves 11 individuals, is still ongoing, and the transplants may fail or cause unexpected health consequences. However, because the cells came from the patient's own tissue, the new ear is unlikely to be rejected by the body, according to doctors and corporate officials. More research, according to business leaders, might lead to the production of many more replacement body parts, such as spinal discs, noses, knee menisci, rotator cuffs, and reconstructive tissue for lumpectomies. 

There are experiments ongoing to check if in the future, 3-D printing can be used to create considerably more sophisticated essential organs such as livers, kidneys, and pancreas.

Though companies have previously used 3-D printing technology to produce custom-fit prosthetic limbs made of plastic and lightweight metals, this is perhaps the first known example of a 3-D printed implant made of living tissues.

The patient who received the replacement ear was one of the first to undergo a successful transplant as part of Dr. Bonilla's clinical research. 

The successful transplant, according to 3DBio CEO Daniel Cohen, was a "truly historic moment." Dr. Bonilla further expressed his excitement, "This is so exciting, sometimes I have to temper myself a little bit. If everything goes as planned, this will revolutionize the way this is done."




Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Morsa Images