Using a 3-D-scanned human ear as a model, then a 3-D printed mold, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have grown an artificial ear.
The ear was constructed using collagen fibers from a cow that were shaped around a titanium framework, and then injected with cartilage cells from a sheep. The cartilage then grew inside the collagen into a perfect ear shape that even had approximately the same flexibility as a real ear. The ears were implanted under the skin of lab rodents as a model of how they would be implanted in people, and they survived well for 12 weeks. The ultimate goal is to develop the technology to create artificial ear tissue that could be implanted in patients who've suffered injuries, and ultimately could be used to replace other body parts.
Other developments in the medical use of 3-D printing techniques include direct 3-D layering of tooth replacements and bone structures, and research by firms like Organovo indicates that one day 3-D-printed organs may be possible.
[Image via Flickr user: leosaumurejr]