3D-Printing Technology Offers More Realistic Model for Ear Reconstructive Surgery

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Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Newman_021015A novel use of 3D-printing technology is affording surgeons valuable models they can use to practice creating new ears for children. The new models offer a more realistic model to work with instead of the soap, fruits and vegetables, or dental mold material that was previously used.

The printing method was the result of a collaboration between a University of Washington resident and a bioengineering student.

Children who are born with missing or underdeveloped ears can get reconstructive surgery to have a new ear built and provided. The replacement ear is created from cartilage harvested from the ribs. Since the cartilage is important for the ribs, extra amounts can’t be taken to practice with. Instead, soap, carrots, and apples are used. Pig ribs are occasionally employed but the size discrepancy makes their practice value less than ideal. The material used for dental molds was previously the most useful, but is highly expensive.

The 3D-printing method uses CT scans to produce a mold that surgeons can use to create replicas of the patient’s ribs. Surgeons can then use the replicas to practice the cartilage harvest and carving techniques they will employ in the live surgery.

Currently, the typical waiting period for this type of reconstructive surgery—called auricular reconstruction—can range from six months to a year. This is partly due to the lack of surgeons able to perform the operation. More surgeons would be capable of performing the reconstruction than currently exist, but many hesitate to start because of a lack of experience and confidence with only practicing on inadequate materials.

The results of a comparative study, where surgeons were asked to compare the use of the models to pig ribs and dental mold material, were presented last week at the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery conference in Dallas.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Berens, A., “CAD and 3D Printing for Simulation of Auricular Reconstruction,” Lecture, AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting and OTO EXPO, Omni Dallas Hotel, Dallas, September 28, 2015.

Langston, J., “3-D Printing Techniques Help Surgeons Carve New Ears,” University of Washington web site, September 30, 2015; http://www.washington.edu/news/2015/09/30/3-d-printing-techniques-help-surgeons-carve-new-ears/.




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Adrian has been working in the information publishing world since 1997. But when it comes to health information, he’s a self-admitted late bloomer. A couch potato since pre-school, Adrian was raised on TV, video games and a lifestyle that led to childhood obesity that followed him well into adulthood. But when he hit his forties, he decided enough was enough. He had a family to take care of and his days of overeating, under-exercising and inactivity were going to lead... Read Full Bio »