Israeli scientists at the Technion – Israel Institute of Science have engineered a working ear, alongside Sheba Medical Centre.
Led by Professor Shulamit Levenberg of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, the team combined techniques of organ printing, tissue engineering and the extraction of human cells to create a custom implant that can be used to replace ears that don’t develop properly in utero.
The scaffold, which allows for the formation of the new ear, is designed from a CT scan of the patient’s ear.
It is hoped the breakthrough will significantly help children with microtia – a condition in which the underdeveloped ear is small, malformed and sometimes unable to hear.
Previously, it was treated using cartilage tissue from the ribs, which is both painful and comes with the risk of added complications. The new surgery can also be performed at the age of six instead of after 10, which may also help reduce the psychological effects for children who, up until now, have had to start school with a malformed ear.
It could also be tailored to “other applications, such as nasal reconstruction and fabrication of various orthopedic implants”, Professor Levenberg hopes.
Microtia affects 0.1% to 0.3% of births.
Each May, Better Hearing and Speech Month helps raise awareness about communication disorders and hearing health.
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