New 3D-printed ear could be a game-changer for organ transplants, doctors say

Photo courtesy 3DBio Therapeutics

A surgeon who specializes in treating rare ear deformities has successfully implanted a 3D-printed ear made of living tissue.

The procedure, the first of its kind, was done on a 20-year-old woman from Mexico with microtia, an ear deformity that happens when the external ear doesn’t develop properly.

If the clinical trials are successful, the implant would provide an alternative to synthetic materials and rib cartilage grafts typically used to reconstruct the outer ear. According to 3DBio Therapeutics, the company that manufactures the implant, it could also advance the technologies needed to create other organs made from human cells.

"I am inspired by what this technology may mean," Dr. Arturo Bonilla, the surgeon who performed the procedure, said in a news release.

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Bonilla, who heads the Microtia-Congenital Ear Deformity Institute in San Antonio, Texas, has treated thousands of microtia cases in his career, he said. Children diagnosed with the most severe grade of microtia don’t have an outer ear at all.


Photo courtesy 3DBio Therapeutics

According to 3DBio, about 1,500 babies are born with microtia in the U.S. each year.

The technology used to create the AuriNovo implant is proprietary, the company said, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its design and clinical trials. There are 11 volunteers participating in the first phase.

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Depending on the outcome of the clinical trials, the new implant could become the standard for ear reconstruction.

3D-printing has already been used to make functioning prosthetics and replacement bones, but organs are much more difficult. And 3DBio isn’t the only company exploring 3D-printed organs. 


Photo courtesy 3DBio Therapeutics

United Therapeutics, the company that genetically altered a pig’s heart for the first ever pig-to-human heart transplant, is also studying 3D-printing organs with a patient's own cells to reduce rejection rates.

There are 106,040 people in America on the list for an organ transplant, according to the federal organ donation website. Another donor is added to the list every nine minutes, and 17 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.

3DBio CEO and Co-founder Daniel Cohen called the living-tissue implant a "historic moment" for the regenerative medicine field.

"We look forward to leveraging our platform to solve other high impact, unmet medical needs ... and eventually expand to organs," Cohen said.