Scientists at Australia’s University of Wollongong have created a 3D printer which has used biological materials to reproduce a human ear. 

The machine uses what is known as bio-ink developed by the University of Wollongong and the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney will be the first hospital to use these parts in reconstructive surgery. 

Ear, nose and throat surgeon at the hospital, Payal Mukherjee, said: “Treatment of this particular ear deformity is demanding because the outer ear is an extremely complex 3D shape, not only in length and breadth, but also in height and projection from the skull.

“This is where bioprinting is an extremely exciting avenue, as it allows an ear graft to be designed and customised to the patient’s own face using the patient’s own natural tissue.

“This would result in reduced operating time and improved cosmetic outcome – and avoids the current complication of requiring a donor site for cartilage, usually from the patient’s rib cage.

“We want to be able to print an ear that’s customised to a patient’s individual ear abnormality and specific to a patient’s own facial features.”

Gordon Wallace, lead scientist at the University of Wollongong, said: “This project illustrates our ability to manage a successful pipeline to turn fundamental research into a strategic application to create a new health solution to improve people’s lives.

“We have been responsible for the primary sourcing of materials; the formulation of bio-inks and the design and fabrication of a customised printer; the design of required optimal protocols for cell biology; through to the final clinical application.

“With one 3D Alek now established in a clinical environment at RPA and a replica in our lab at TRICEP, our new 3D bioprinting initiative, we will be able to fast-track the next stages of our research to deliver a practical solution to solve this clinical challenge.”

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