For children born with microtia, a congenital deformity of the external ear, reconstructive surgery solutions can involve long, painful operations or prosthetics that rarely resemble the real thing.
However, Cornell bioengineers and physicians have offered new hope by using 3-D printing and injectable gel molds to create an artificial ear that looks, feels and functions like a natural one.
Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, said this method is "absolutely" the best option reconstructive surgeons have for helping kids with microtia or those who've lost part of an ear to trauma or cancer.
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"This approach really combines the cutting edge of imaging, simple biology and our bioengineering know-how," Spector told Discovery News. "What it does, essentially, is create an exact replica of the patient's contralateral ear."
Along with Dr. Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell, Spector co-authored a study published in PLOS ONE detailing their innovative methods, which vastly improve on the two previous options for treatment -- the first being the creation of an implant using an artificial, Styrofoam-like material.