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UOW researchers develop 3D Alek bioprinter to combat congenital ear deformity

Researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW) headquartered ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) have developed 3D Alek, a customised multi-materials biofabrication 3D printer designed to create a 3D printed human ear. Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Sydney took possession of the printer this week, and will soon be able to replicate a human ear for children with ear deformities.

The “3D Alek” printer utilises a specialised bio-ink developed and manufactured by ACES researchers at UOW and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) to assist in the regeneration of cartilage for use in reconstructive ear surgery.

“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,” ACES Director Professor Gordon Wallace said.

“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.”

Professor Mukherjee said she was thrilled to be working with ACES researchers to develop a solution to combat microtia that is individualised to match the patient’s own anatomy.

“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,” Professor Mukherjee said.

“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 – resulting 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.”

The team will continue to advance research including undertaking initial clinical trials with a focus on accelerating the development of the specialised bio-ink by using stem cells from human tissue, with the hope of eventually being able to print a living ear using a patient’s own stem cells.

 


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