3D-Printed Ears Help Hearing Impaired Kids

Implants are becoming a thing of the past, now that it’s possible to 3D-print anything from brain tissue to teeth. While some remain dubious about the technology, Chinese scientists may convince them to think on the contrary. A Chinese lab has successfully incorporated 3D-printing methods to regrow underdeveloped ears using the patients’ own cells.

The researchers created a 3D-printed replica of each child’s normal ear… but … reversed. This replica was then used to create a mold littered with tiny holes and made out of biodegradable material. The mold was filled in with precursor cartilage cells taken from the children’s deformed ear that were further grown in the lab.

The ears grow over a 12-week process and are more restorative than cosmetic. Chinese researchers haven’t yet trialled the use of stem cells, but progress incredibly fast, which means its potential shouldn’t be far off. Five children have since undergone the experimental procedure.

“It’s a very exciting approach,” [said] Tessa Hadlock, a reconstructive plastic surgeon…“They’ve shown that it is possible to get close to restoring the ear structure.”

We’ve come a long way with reconstructive surgeries, and might I say — it’s music to my ears.

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Gene Therapy Can Treat Butterfly Children

An avalanche of medical successes this year are sharing a common theme — genes. Gene editing is allowing researchers to more efficiently remedy conditions such as paralysis and leukemia. Though initially an unlikely candidate, gene therapy is now also instrumental in treating junctional epidermolysis bullosa. It saw its first triumph on a “butterfly boy” in Germany.

[Doctors] took a patch of non-blistered skin from the boy’s leg and used a virus to carry a corrected version of the bad DNA into his skin cells.

They grew grafts of the corrected skin and, in three separate operations over several months, replaced the missing skin.

Considering most “butterfly children” don’t make it past 30, genetic skin grafting could make an impact commercially. The therapy corrects stem cells, regenerating healthy substitutes. Since his discharge, the German schoolboy has remained healthy, living without the need for medication.

“This is really the way to go. You can get to the patients early before they have all the complications and suffering,”

With a growing population of “butterfly children”, this breakthrough could potentially relieve a giant itching epidemic.

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3D Printing Brain Tissue Is Now Possible

3D printing is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. With it, researchers can produce anything from teeth to functioning hearts — and they’re not stopping there. An Australian public research university has found a way to treat brain diseases by 3D printing brain tissue.

The treatment is based on the 3D printing of tissue from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are stem cells that have the capability of differentiating into any type of adult cell, including brain cells.

With brain illnesses being the most difficult to treat, 3D printing can consider this one of its greatest successes. Anyone can donate iPSCs. Machines use a custom-designed bioink for printing.

“By developing this further we will be able to generate healthy and diseased tissues for research, identifying better drugs for medicine and replacing or repairing damaged tissues or organs due to injury or disease.”

The range of printable neurons can tackle conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. While we cannot yet print entire brains, there is hope for transplantable organs.

“There’s no doubt that sometime in the future engineering tissues by bioprinting iPSCs will be routinely performed for surgical treatments of patients with damaged or diseased tissue,”

The tissue, which can also be used to screen new drugs, is surely a breakthrough for the books.

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We Can Soon Grow Replacement Organs

It never fails to impress me how we are always one step closer to figuring out the human body. We’ve learned how to handle it with robotic surgeries and now, with even more efficiency. Scientists at Monash University may have figured out how to grow replacement organs.

The team has discovered that a protein called Meox1 is pivotal in promoting the growth of muscles. They came across the protein while studying zebrafish, which are ideal candidates for the research due to their rapid rate of growth and biological similarities with humans.

Meox1 directs muscle growth by selecting the relevant stem cells for producing the specific tissue.

Apparently, we’ve got some fish to thank this this groundbreaking discovery. For years we have understood the functions of stem cells–but never how they function. Grasping its mechanisms mean researchers will ultimately have more control.

Stem cells are also increasingly being recognized as an integral tool for treating — and even curing — a number debilitating diseases. Everything from blindness to paralysis to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease have already seen breakthroughs with the help of stem cells.

With new knowledge always comes the opportunity to manipulate nature to our benefit. If it saves lives, then why not?

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