One of the challenges in covering the continually evolving field of 3D printing is that while the applications can seem endless, the final benefit is usually the same – saving time and cutting costs.
This time, however, the primary takeaway is not only unique but potentially life-changing.
First, yes, there is an academic journal entitled 3D Printing in Medicine, and it recently chronicled some of the work being down by researchers at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Medicine in combatting hearing loss.
While previous 3D printing approaches have focused on different types of hearing aids, the folks in Baltimore are reproducing the actual bones found in the middle ear, as damage to these bones is often associated with hearing loss.
More specifically, the ossicles are three tiny middle ear bones that can be compromised by trauma, disease or infection. The most commonly affected of the three is the incus bone. And while there is a surgical procedure that uses a prosthetic replacement, it’s been performed with minimal success.
However, the use of patient-specific CT scans in generating custom-printed bone replacements that can be snapped into place with submillimeter accuracy should provide a stronger connection between the three bones and help restore hearing with greater success.
So, while the proportions have been greatly enhanced with 3D printing, the next step for researchers will be investigating which materials are ideal in terms of biological compatibility as well as capable of providing higher levels of sound conductivity.