Toddler Maia Van Mulligan will be fitted with a first-of-a-kind 3D printed ear, as a result of groundbreaking research carried out by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The toddler was born with just one ear, due to a condition called Microtia. At present, she wears an external device to transmit sound to her brain by using her skull as a bone conductor.

The researchers look forward to creating prosthetic ears that will mimic natural ear cartilage for the child in the near future. They intend to use the 2-year-old's own cells to grow an ear that will be surgically embedded along with a hearing implant. This is slated to be a long-term project.

Mia Woodruff of QUT's Biofabrication Group explained that the ear would be surgically implanted onto the child, and that it would grow on to create a "living, breathing ear construct." The researchers will be working together with bionics companies to further enhance the toddler's hearing capabilities.

QUT has received $125,000 in both not-for-profit and government funding to produce 3D printed genetically matched synthetic models of ears to aid children with Microtia such as little Maia.

The university has also collaborated with the Hear and Say charity for this purpose. Hear and Say have contributed $25,000 toward the ear research.

"We really hope that we can make a future where every hospital might have a 3D printer so that doctors can customize everything and make prosthetics work for individuals," said Maureen Ross, a QUT graduate who designs 3D printed ears including the one for Maia.

Maia's mother Chloe Mulligan feels this breakthrough research will positively change her daughter's quality of living.

"I thought it was light years away in terms of this technology," she said.

Woodruff believes that if all goes well and adequate commercial and government support is received toward this cause, in the long run, the prosthetic ears could possibly cost less than a pair of glasses.

The 3D printer could be leveraged to print other parts of the body that can aid soldiers who have been terribly injured during deployment.

Photo: Simon James | Flickr 

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